Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gamification: Good for the Community?

Pam's attempt at the Gamification of chores
is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems.

We begin with a narrative.

It's nearly midnight as Agent DJ Goddessa makes her fourth lap of the surrounding 6 square blocks.  It's a chilly night as she makes her way through the park, cell phone light dimly guiding the way.  Appearing to ramble aimlessly she meanders across various terrains.  Though to someone watching she would seem lost, she could never be more accurate in her location.  She reaches the spot she was looking for, and anxiously awaits the confirmation from her phone.  LEVEL UP! She gave a whispered hooray, just as her phone notified her of a low battery.  She looks up at the monument, basking in the moonlight, she never really realized how pretty this park was at night.

Places like this.
All of a sudden she hears a rustling behind her! Spinning around she peers into the darkness and can make out a figure across the street.  Who could it be?! The shadow approached, slowly at first. When it crossed the street she could see the person was also lit by their cell phone.  Agent DJ peered through to see if she recognized the person. Almost as if in response the person flashes their cell phone screen.  She knew it, he was the enemy!  Though not at all dangerous.  She didn't have enough battery to battle over the park tonight, so instead she flashed her own phone as a sign of the torch being passed, a shift being changed, and for a little while longer this park will be safe. Even if it isn't Enlightened.

Can Gamification really make our cities safer, cleaner, and more popular? Can it bring about positive change in our communities?

How can playing a game make a city safer?

The game mentioned above is called Ingress and you can find more details here, here, and here.  For the sake of this article all you need to know in brief, is that it is a GPS based game, in which players compete over physical structures of Art or Architecture.  Those of you who know a little more would know that this game is a data gold mine for Google.  
What you may not know is that these "agents" are making our streets safer.  By actively engaging people to "patrol" their community, i.e. utilize their public spaces, they create a safer atmosphere.  For example, as SF Weekly points out:
After Dexter Lau watched a nightclub bouncer punch a drunk man to the ground, he stuck around to make sure the man got help. Tom Campbell tried to intervene one night when an inebriated cyclist attempted to bicycle home, and also chased away a fellow Ingress player who had unsafely parked in a bus zone to play.
These players are like community Samaritans; truly good people looking out for others.  Always armed with a cell phone any one of them can dial 911 at a moments notice.  Even better than that, is the possibility of crimes prevented simply by more people being around.

What does playing games have to do with civil maintenance?

One would think a drastic jump would be needed, however by creating a game based around reporting unsafe, underutilized and all around undesirable areas it all becomes quite simple. A design company in Toronto, Galumph, has put together such a system. By utilizing GIS and mobile technology, they have revolutionized how reports can be handled.
"Instead of weeks of manual data entry, the design team gets a clear, location-based breakdown of community opinion, with demographic information attached to give it context."
From the city of Aurora, who has a very organized system,
yet it's still a series of different emails
and/or telephone #s of different departments.
It's one of the better ones, yet could be better.
With all of this data, cities can make more, better informed decisions about maintenance and (hopefully) respond to the problems quickly and efficiently.  For the time being, their reach is on a community by community basis; it requires tour supervision as to best manage the influx of data.  It will be incredible once this grows to handle the open world; to be as organic as Waze which is a similar concept involving traffic reporting. Though there will always be traffic, we CAN do something about the undesirable places of our cities.

Who would play a video game about tourism?

As a player of Ingress, the game I mentioned before, I can attest that playing it will get you out and about.  Walking or biking between portals is not only healthy but can be adventurous. I have discovered amazing things in my own backyard! I had passed by sculptures, murals and buildings hundreds of times without ever seeing them.  
Since it's a user populated game, it gives players the ability to build it themselves. By taking pictures of these beautiful places, geotagging them and uploading them to the server, we are actively recording our world. This inspired me to leave my little town and see what other cool places I could find.  Groups of players would meet up for social events. Gatherings turned to Architecture tours, tours turned into adventures, and many adventures ended in dinner and entertainment.
Often times players 'representing' their city would lead players who venture in from other places on predetermined, unofficial tours.  Who better to ask for directions than the natives, right? Well this game directly links those two parties together, and then provides a setting for which they have a reason to explore, mingle, and consume.
Now imagine this on a worldwide scale.
Oh wait...it already is.

Conclusion-Can Gamification bring about positive change?

It works with real currency,
Let's make one with real benefits.
From: What I Learned Today
From all that we've seen there is no doubt in my mind this strategy would benefit the community.  Why? Because it actively engages the community to take part and branch out.  It builds pride and a healthy competition as we each strive to make our neck of the woods more desirable than the next. It may deter crime by making the window of opportunity smaller, and the likelihood of police response greater.
Lastly, it could even bring about a beautification of one's neighborhood, as envisioned by Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom.  In which the game revolves around real world actions such as planting, cleaning, recycling and so much more.  Where the players don't just report the problems, but take hold of the reigns and become involved in the solutions.
I'll leave you today with a taste of Mr. Newsom's vision of a Government in the age of social networks.  This can be explain in more depth in his book Citizenville:How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government. Which I highly recommend.

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