The World of GovCraft

Inspired by the excellent Joanne Jacobs at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter to think more about the role of games and game play in solving problems and creating solutions.

I started to think about how Government in general could be seen as a game so that we could not only engage people in the problems and challenges we all face but actually inspire them to be part of the solution and help make changes happen. In the lunchtime session that Joanne facilitated she spoke very passionately about the role of games and how we all play games all the time but just don’t realise it.

I kind of hit a blank wall as the big picture of Government is pretty boring, but the individual components that make it are actually interesting. So how do you start to get to a level of engagement and participation that inspires the average person on the street to want to get involved.

I then came across this excellent TED video of Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. Surely this is the stuff that Government innovators should be thinking about.

In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds

So what is the chance of Government creating a meaningful game that inspires people to get involved, help change the world around them and contribute positively to the social fabric around them – Hold on a minute, haven’t we got something that is supposed to do this = Democracy? The challenge we have to make engagement and participation more engaging not just to young people but to people in general is to start inviting people into the game and make the game more interesting to start with.

So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

If people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth watching.

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Sterling Whitehead

Great ideas. Still I couldn’t help but think of some funny (to me) one-liners.
a) Welcome to the Game of Democracy!
b) This could be the end of the world…of GovCraft (see South Park)

Carl Haggerty

Thanks for your comments. After all we are always playing games in government, we just don’t call them that for convenience.

Pam Broviak

This is a subject that I think has great potential. Combining gaming with government allows for enhanced and improved training & education for staff, elected officials, and citizens. Because I believe it could have a huge impact in my particular area of public works, I have been trying to search out examples and develop some ideas.

So far the main examples I have found are planning activities developed by the city of Boston (talk to Nigel Jacob who is awesome and has great insight on this) and the US Military who is well down this path – they have exhibits, research, and displays in Second Life focused on this topic and are hosting GameTech 2010 next week (wish I could go!). There is also a group of us who had our cities chosen by a mobile app developer for the purpose of creating a mobile govt app that should have a game element to it.

Anyway, there is so much more that could be done I wish there was some way we could collaborate to develop the ideas and then figure out a way to have someone create the programs.

Michael Riedyk

Hi Carl,
We are actually in the middle of developing a mobile app that brings together Gov Data and Gaming to create a stronger sense of community. See
We plan to launch the betaversion in May. I’ll keep you updated.

Lisa Nelson
McGonigal wrote a paper for the Institute for the Future: Engagement Economy the future of massively scaled collaboration and participation. She builds an excellent case for the importance of finding “fun” ways to engage citizens or risk being able to sustain participation networks. As more and more governments and agencies try to “harness the wisdom of the crowds” we need to find ways to optimize “participation bandwidth-our individual and collective capacity to contribute to one or more participatory networks.” How many communities can one belong to before becoming inactive? If we are going to compete for “crowd resources” and grab as many “contribution hours” as possible we need to figure out what will motivate people to engage and stay engaged.

David Fletcher

The World of Warcraft is one of the most fascinating pieces of technology today. It does inspire users to work on a wide variety of problem solving issues, and promotes collaboration in that process. It requires the users to employ a variety of skills including math and economics. I have implemented a number of ideas in egov that originated from ideas developed in WoW, so I think that McGonigal’s hypothesis is not unrealistic. We would do well if we could make egov just a fraction as immersive an experience as WoW. I think it is possible to move what we are doing in that direction.

Pam Broviak

I totally agree with you on your assessment of World of Warcraft – it wasn’t until I played it that I realized the true potential of gaming in our offline lives. Many schools understand this and are trying to integrate its approach into teaching. I believe we will miss out as professionals if we neglect to learn the lessons games can teach.

It might be silly of me, but as an engineer I can’t help thinking while I play WoW about the transportation choices set up in the game. It would be so interesting to analyze which systems are most used and why, and I think this research could be possibly applied to transportation in “real life.” I also look at the layout of the towns there and wonder about planning and the placement of certain businesses and how this works.

Lisa Nelson

Interesting work being done at the European Space Association on this topic. ESA is conducting a study, Online Game Technology for Space Education and System Analysis, to look at potential applications of different online game-playing technologies from the simplest content-oriented games through to Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) virtual worlds.

The study highlights a number of ways in which these technologies could benefit ESA aims: immersive environments based on these technologies could enhance collaborative working of project scientists and engineers. It was also recognized that exciting online games could prove an excellent tool for promoting space and supporting the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths.

As part of the study, a video of a potential future game environment was produced, showing future human exploration of Jupiter’s ice moon Europa.

Jay Johnson

In the last year I’ve seen these “games.”
This puts you at the dashboard of the Federal Budget and lets you see how long you can keep the country out of bankrupcy.
Now you’re the US Treasury, bailing out (or not) companies left and right while trying to outrun a recession.
Finally this gives you control of the State of Kansas Department of Transportation budget and shows you the consequences of you decisions.

There is great potential in this area. Great post Carl.