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Urgent EVOKE: Agent Ninmah is Born

This week, I became an agent in a global network of social innovators.

Urgent EVOKE: A Crash Course in Saving the World opened on March 3, 2010. It’s a game, a learning experience, a training simulation, and a journey all in one. It was designed and is directed by Jane McGonigal for the World Bank Institute. For more on the game’s background, see this WIRED article or watch the video interview with Jane McGonigal below:

The Hook
EVOKE has been open two days and already has more than 7,500 members. The game will last 10 weeks, concluding on May 12, 2010, with a new quest unlocked each week. The hook or premise for the game is that players are members of the EVOKE network and have been called to respond — or will be called, in 10 years; the game moves back and forth through time fluidly — to an urgent food crisis in Tokyo. The story is presented in graphic novel form on the main page of site and also plays out in a 90-second trailer:

EVOKE trailer (a new online game) from Alchemy on Vimeo.

The Game
Each week, players get a new mission and a new quest, with three objectives (learn, act, and imagine). This week’s quest was very personal. On the surface, the first mission was to answer the standard “introduce yourself” question that many social networks include. But the format and the questions made me want to really think about what to say, and more crucially, made me want to see what other people wrote about themselves. The quest objectives are categorized as learn, act, and imagine; the “learn” one was to read an outside blog post (the hits for that page must be off the charts) that collected insights about social change, pick one of the insights, and respond to it. The “act” objective was to pick a hero to shadow, write about who they are and why you chose them, and then either follow their blog or Twitter stream, read their research or writings, and/or reach out and tell them you chose them as your hero. The “imagine” one was to write about where you would be in 10 years when the call came from EVOKE.

Players can either remain within the scenario — that is, choose heroes and actions that are consistent with the Tokyo food shortage theme — or make their own path, which is what I did. I’m interested in changing the world through gaming and play, especially in education. So I picked Jane McGonigal as my hero, and imagined myself volunteering in schools to help the kids construct and play games, and help the teachers work them into the curriculum. The important thing is that the quest made me think about the kinds of change I really can effect.

my EVOKE profile

Game Design
The game is essentially a challenge-based learning project, deployed on an enormous scale, where participants can pick their own problems. The game provides a framework, but it’s up to us as players to figure out what we want to learn, how to go about it, where to do research, and so on. The only incentives, unless you are going for one of the World Bank Institute grants, are your own motivation to learn and the comments and points awarded by other players or by the game shepherds.

The first quest was designed to push players past their comfort zones, but only a tiny bit. The questions about who we are were personal, but it was up to us how much to say. The suggestion to reach out to a hero of our choosing was brilliant — for some, that requires a great deal of courage. (My hero hasn’t answered yet, but I can only imagine how busy she is, with upwards of 7,500 people suddenly playing her game!)

Technical Aspects
The game platform is essentially a Ning network with some additions. I could even use my existing Ning ID to log on — yay! no new passwords! — and it had my photo in place already. Players can add blog posts, images, videos, and links very easily. It’s easy to find other players and easy to interact with them.

Participating in the game gets you points in different powers (collaboration, creativity, local insight, knowledge share, and so on). You can award power points to others when you look at their posts (“evidence” in the game). There are also game shepherds; originally, they were supposed to review every piece of evidence and approve each one if it satisfied the quest, but they have recently announced that we’ll be able to do that for ourselves beginning next week. The Leaderboard shows the top point earners and is sortable by power, so you can see who has the most collaboration chops, for instance.

There are active discussions and I’ve found that lots of people are willing to comment on others’ posts. The game also has a Twitter stream and makes it very easy to tweet your progress, which I don’t because I’m sure all my followers could care less.

I’m very interested to see what happens as time goes on. I imagine that some participation will fall off after a while, and I’m curious to see who sticks it out to the end.

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