EPP: Real World Games (for Civic Action Platforms)


In this workshop, small groups will redesign traditional civic activities as if they were games. We call them real world games because they confront the physical world, and involve real civic action — from volunteering to raising money. These controversial games are played on traditional civic platforms; for example, their mechanics must work within the donation systems of traditional nonprofits, or the volunteer management tools of political parties.

Our methodology is deliberately accessible — participants do not need prior design experience. Specifically, we will extend the Grow-A-Game system developed by Flanagan at the Tiltfactor Laboratory, which uses physical playing cards to walk groups through the game design process. The standard version of these cards has been well-received by games studies programs, and already emphasizes design around pro-social values like empathy. For this workshop, we are creating a special version to address real-world civic action.

Culturally, games are in tension with the aesthetics of traditional civic platforms (and associated efforts to recruit “responsible” citizens to do their “duty”). Yet games can be built within that tradition: consider the Boy Scouts with their badge system, or the competitive fundraising of Walk-for-a-Cure. These established programs rarely admit to their game nature; conversely, the emerging field of “serious games” also stays in safe waters, but at the other end of the pool, where there is no direct civic action, and the learning of games is purely preparatory.

The time is ripe to more directly repurpose the platforms of civic action. Most significantly, the rise of technology in civil society is allowing for new kinds of remix. For example, the same act of donating for Haiti relief can be tracked by a game system, and given points. (For more, see the original panel on “direct action games” from the 2010 Games for Change Festival — http://vimeo.com/13582703).

This workshop is organized around a systems approach to civic contribution, with different civic activities considered in terms of their inputs, work done, and outputs. Each small group of participants will select the building blocks of their game, and use the Grow-a-Game cards under the supervision of experienced game designers. A main goal of the workshop is to explore how this systems approach may make it easier to break free of preconceptions about acceptable genres, and help to redesign civic engagement.