Catalysts for Change: How To Gamify A Path Out Of Poverty

via Xiao Mina, core77.com

It seems like we’re playing video games every day. Every morning and evening on the subway, I see people swiping their phones, whether they’re slinging a red bird into a pile of green pigs, guessing a friend’s drawing, or any number of fun, frivolous, addictive activities. That’s a lot of time spent on games, and a lot of cognitive energy. What if all of that brain power could be put toward social issues, like finding a way out of poverty?

Catalysts for Change, a game initiative put out this past April by the Institute for the Future, is an attempt to do just that. It ran off their popular Foresight Engine, a game platform originally designed by Jane McGonigal to drive insights and innovation through an aggregate of hundreds of mini, 140-character forecasts structured in a fast-paced card game.

And with a broad global reach, they were able to bring in global game guides, i.e., regional game managers, who helped them reach 79 countries and 1,600 players speaking English, Spanish, French or Chinese. These game guides played a crucial role as cultural bridges to the broad audience far from Palo Alto. Most were found through IFTF’s broad reach of contacts. In one instance, an aspiring game developer in Mexico City reached out via Twitter, as he saw an opportunity to refine his skills in a city with limited opportunities for learning about games.

I sat down with Tessa Finlev, the official gamemaster of Catalysts for Change. Their goal for the 48-hour burst was to answer a difficult question: how to find new paths out of poverty.

Core77: From the numbers, it sounds like the game went very well.

Tessa Finlev: I think it went really well. Catalysts for Change garnered over 18,000 cards in 48 hours—[double] the previous record for a Foresight Engine game (Magnetic South), in which just under 9,000 cards for a game played in Christchurch, New Zealand after their earthquake last year.

It’s important to mention that while our reach was wide and very global, an online forum is, of course, limited to people who can access the Internet and are savvy enough to navigate the Foresight Engine platform—which is designed to be very lightweight and easy to jump right into, but still requires some experience using the web. Our next step is to find new ways to break down these barriers even further.

C77: What sorts of games and gamification models were implemented in building this site?

In order to gamify the Foresight Engine, we implement a basic scoring structure. When you sign up you get some points; when you play a new card, you get points; and as people build on your cards you get even more points. The focus is on building collaboration, so the majority of the points are gained when players begin to build on each others’ cards.

Foresight Engine games also tend to go hand-in-hand with player awards, which are given to players for the most innovative ideas. Although the awards do not come with points, they reward the desire to be recognized in front of your community for being innovative and creative in your thinking. The awards are not built into the site itself, and require game guides to find the right players and ideas to receive these awards.

The process was particularly daunting for the Catalysts for Change game due to such a large amount of cards that were played in such a short period. Many of the global game guides suggested that we find a way to have the game automatically award players with basic algorithms. However, this becomes increasingly difficult since the themes of the awards change for every game. In the end, it might mean that next time we run a game with global game guides that we need to focus on adding in more training around the process of awarding players

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