I spent Wednesday – Friday of last week working on a far brighter side of gaming than gamergate. In support of its mission to eradicate poverty, the World Bank has been deploying a game called Evoke, which is designed to engage young adults in developing countries with social good issues. They used a hackathon to start the next round of game stories. The Bank gathered science fiction writers, topical experts, curriculum designers, and artists around grey industrial tables with power cords hanging overhead, a maker space right next door, and plentiful moderately bad coffee.
Each team worked on a topical “big” issue from conservation through nuclear disarmament (Remember the nukes? Some of us do. Viscerally. But millennials may not).
The hackathon designers drew authors from the Hieroglyph anthology inspired by Seattle superpower Neal Stephenson, with the apt addition of Kim Stanley Robinson. Participants included Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn (the editors), Kathleen Ann Goonan, Karl Schroeder, James Cambias, and me. Academics and experts came from multiple Universities and from the Bank itself. Every table had an artist; they might have been the most amazing people there. Worlds and characters were drawn into life very quickly.
Each team produced about 8 pages worth of graphic story, and a number of tasks to accompany it. Some groups proposed linking the game to the player’s real world.
Will these games work?
That’s tough to say. But they very well might. It seems that the linkage to the real world will matter. For example, if someone gaming about literacy can read to someone else, there could be an extra win.
Another trick will be creating engaging experiences. Each table might have benefitted from one more person: an actual game designer from a commercially successful game. Perhaps designers from Zynga, Bungee, and Valve.
Some episodes of Evoke are already in use. If the game continues to get better and grow its base, the payoff could be fabulous. Many target players are in countries with broken education systems. Interactive games could provide a window into a world where players can connect with the global community and global mentors so that they become armed with new knowledge and skills, as well as a feeling of empowerment.
It’s hard to create compelling entertainment with an agenda. But it’s possible. I’m very pleased that the World Bank did this, and that they invited me to play a small part. I wish them all the success in the world.