Last week, some of us gathered for a talk about games, mobilizing and activism as part of the e-Campaigning Forum conference in Oxford.  The first thing I did as the moderator of the session was ask if anyone knew a game.  Luckily a man with a big black beard did.

Thumb grabbing game.So we all stood in a circle and spent a while trying to grab each other’s thumbs.  Specifically, to play this game, you old your left hand out palm up (under your neighbor’s thumb), and your right hand out thumb down (over your other neighbor’s hand).  When the bearded man said, “Go!” we’d all try to grab the thumb of the person on our left, while trying not to get our thumb grabbed by the person on the right.  When you thumb was grabbed, you were out and the circle got smaller. (Thanks bearded man! – who I found out later is Dave from Friends of the Earth UK.)

What’s the point of all this?

I sucked at the game, and was quickly knocked out – leaving me time to contemplate the spectacle.  The game worked well as an ice breaker.  We were in the last session of the last day of the conference, but everyone was up on their feet, interacting and paying attention.  The lesson is that games can have purpose.


We spent most of our time talking about examples.  What I picked up on was that different kinds of games (or game like elements), are good for different kinds of things.  They can get press attention, drive website traffic, educate, change behaviors and keep people motivated.

That said, here are a bunch of example’s people mentioned, or that I’ve come across…

WWF action card / passport – Earning points for doing online actions. (Care2 also has a more sophisticated version of this kind of thing

Conspiracy for good – Last year it was a alternative reality game (ARG) with a real world “doing good” twist (they actually helped provide books to kids in Africa).  This year, they plan to focus more on the doing good (due to player feedback).  But they’ll still maintain a mythology and keep it a compelling experience.

Real world games – Games you play in the “real world”, not staring at your computer screen or looking through an iPhone (though mobile phones are often used in the games).  A good argument for games by SlingShot Effect, a company that makes real world games.  Examples of real world games (from igfest)…

Hurl Berl – Simple web game where you throw Berlusconi out of the G8, was the viral driver for an onine petition.  Cost 15,000 to build/distribute, did not take long to build (maybe 3 weeks), 25p per head recruitment. Conversion rate was very low, at end of game it was “play again” or “sign the petition”, numbers made it effective for recruitment. Also Got media coverage.  Seems like a lot of people just want to play casual games.  (Thanks Weldon!)

Add a counter to almost anything – And you’ve got instant competition. Volunteers were using mobile devices to get petition signatures at U2 concerts.  Once they added a counter to the app, volunteers were much more motivated, signatures shot up. (Thanks Weldon!)

Book recommendationGame storming

Fate of the world (computer simulation game) – Take charge of a global organization that takes on the challenge.  (Thanks Jed from Oxfam!)

Weight watchers – People who participate in it don’t think of it as a game, but it has a lot of game like elements (goals, points, achievements).

Treasure hunts / scavenger hunts – Photo scavenger hunts were mentioned as something that’s easy to do. One person knew about an example where a group wanted to get their volunteers familiar with a particular area of the city.  So they created a photo hunt (you give people photos and they have to find where they were taken and take a picture from the same spot), which got people used to the geography.  Another example was having a team (or thing) that moves around a city, twittering it’s location.  People who catch up to the thing get a prize (has been done by a shoe store and an airline company that I know of).  Cohen, from Fairfood, told us about a treasure hunt style project they’re working on, but asked us to keep it secret for now.  Best to contact him if you’re curious.

Geo caching – One group wanted to promote quality time between parent’s and thier kids.  So they organized geo caching events.  The idea also came up for Save the Libraries to geocache books from libraries that ar being shut down.  (You shouldn’t need to hunt for them!)

Super badger – Facebook application built by Rechord – Gives you new a campaign  every two weeks, earn points, move up the ranks, involving friends also gets you points. After enough points you move up in rank. One challenge was keeping players motivated after they reached super badger status (which happened with a lot of the players).  Had a leaderboard with top 20 players.  Problem – FB API keeps changing so then your application stops working.  Plays on social competitiveness.  Incentivize with prizes doesn’t generally work for this kind of thing. Recognition does.  Seeded it with active campaigners, key was points for inviting people.

World power league – Rachel from Rechord helped build this web application designed to, “help young people to engage with issues of power, citizenship and politics”, by voting on which public figures are most powerful or evil.

Further reading and some links:

My post on a SXSW presentation by Andy Baio called, “Gaming the crowd” (includes what makes a good game, and some more examples).

Games for Change – a group dedicated to social change through gaming.

An academic attempt to define what games are.