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everyone has a piece of the puzzle

Making public media future-relevant: everyone has a piece of the puzzle

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard has a paper out on the future of public broadcasting (download the PDF). Among the trends and forecasts, authors Pat Aufderheide and Jessica Clark note “a few participatory media public broadcasting experiments gesture to a future in which audiences are treated as both trusted partners and engaged citizens.” One of these experiments is Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Network, whose members serve as sources, story suggesters, brainstorming allies, and volunteer interviewees for reporters. The other is the World Without Oil game:

“A web-based project of ITVS’s Independent Lens, World Without Oil not only demonstrated the potential of online role-playing games to spark participation around social issues, but foreshadowed public reactions to our current oil price crunch. More than 1900 gamers from 40-plus countries collaboratively imagined their reactions to a simulated 8-month energy crisis through submissions via blogs, Flickr, YouTube, and podcasts. Participants virtually carpooled and bought bikes, moved out of transportation-poor suburbs, and started backyard gardens—and then reported corresponding changes in their real lives.”

The report summarizes: “Such immersive, authentic engagement with both audiences and issues is what is needed to ensure public broadcasters’ relevance in an ever-more participatory media universe.” One exciting idea: Local stations could change what they define as their core task, becoming more like an electronic public library for the
community. Except that the “library” focuses on futures (and the local actions that choose among them) rather than the past? That’s a value proposition that’s relevant to our time.  Photo by Will Survive via Flickr.

"word"

"Don't leave anyone behind for the wolves to devour"

“The calls for food assistance to our Catholic Worker House have tripled this past month, but last Saturday we had only 1/3 our usual number of volunteers show up to deliver the food… In the meantime, besides delivery, we have another problem, and that is food to give out to the poor. Our delivery this month from the Regional Food Bank was half its usual amount. Instead of about 14 tons of food, we received 7 at the Dorothy Day Center… The Printable Flyers are online. They are basic how-to instructions for coping with severely challenging circumstances. We’re handing out the full set, since we don’t know how far down this is going to go… We’re suggesting that people combine households, move in with each other, especially small households with only one or two people. The way things are going, keeping a household going with only one or two people isn’t going to work well. Inflation is running up prices, rents are going up, we’re headed for a big spike in foreclosures. I’ve been getting calls from people I know are middle class and even upper middle class about assistance in meeting mortgage payments. We’ve had to turn all of those down. I tell them to move in with their parents, but there is a lot of denial…. I worry all this will be too little, too late… I wish all this had held off for a couple more years, but oh well, at least we are where we are now and aren’t starting from square one.” Sound like a report on what’s happening today? It’s actually an example of “isthisnotagame”: it comes from an excellent report submitted back in July by jpeaceokc for the alternate reality game World Without Oil. Happy holidays, everyone. Photo by bella love via Flickr.

Fear is a lack of imagination

Fear is a lack of imagination

Elizabeth Kolbert created an evocative image in a recent New Yorker editorial: she described the auto executives in Washington as men with explosives strapped to their chests, bringing nothing to the table but the promise that if forced to suffer, they won’t suffer alone.

Imagine, instead, that an auto executive had come to Washington armed with a vision – such as a new line of ultraefficient cars leveraging carbon-fiber technology a la Amory Lovins.

We are having a crisis – the Econaclypse, the Great Decession, call it what you will – and like the Great Depression it will define an entire generation. But it really is a crisis of imagination, not of economics. Wendell Berry:

We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper, or the landscapes, the streams and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimmingpools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations. An excerpt from “In the Presence of Fear” by Wendell Berry

This is important, so I’m going to say it again: We are in a crisis because too many people have lacked a certain kind of imagination. We all know that everything exists in an ecosystem, but it’s possible to pretend that it doesn’t, or that the system will be able to suck up whatever abuse you happen to do to it. The people who made the sub-prime epidemic happen did not imagine that they were destroying the ecosystem of credit. The people who made gas guzzlers did not imagine that they were destroying the ecosystem of energy evolution.

Now, however, those connections have been made clear. Now the thing we cannot afford is for people to strap on their unimagination like bodybelts of explosives and demand that the unimagined consequences of their destructive actions be allowed to continue. What they are failing to see is that their terrorist demand – for life not to change – is impossible. And what they are failing to imagine is that change can create a better life, both for them and the entire ecosystem they live in.

This is why serious games such as World Without Oil and Superstruct are such an important development. These games get at the root of the problem: they encourage imagination and the massive building and sharing of future visions. They put our collective intelligence to work on figuring out what’s happening, what’s possible and what’s fair. And they open-source this vision so that anyone can understand and participate. Wouldn’t it be grand if the legacy of our current economic crisis is not survival, but leadership in imagining how we can all make the future better? Photo by brndnprkns via Flickr.

The change doesn't happen all at once

The change doesn't happen all at once

Jane McGonigal blogged recently about “experience grenades” – games like World Without Oil that can be worldview-changing for their players. Why “grenade”? Experiencing the game is like pulling the pin, she says. Playing the game isn’t necessarily any big thing. It’s sometime later that the “experience” goes off and your worldview gets changed.

This of course is nothing new: I think many of us have had a “grenade” experience with a really great book, movie or other work of art. But I believe the game experience inherently packs a more powerful explosion. Books and movies put a layer of abstraction between you and the experience that games don’t; in some sense you are always “in” a game in a way that you never are with a book or movie. And ARGs in particular really enhance being “in the game.” (There’s no avatar, for one thing; it’s really you.) When there’s no set narrative except the one being created by the players – a la Superstruct or SF0 or World Without Oil – the immersion gets stronger still.

This concept is important for decisionmakers to internalize as they ponder funding for a game. Traditional metric structures for assessing impact do not carry over well to the game sphere, precisely because of phenomena such as the experience grenade. Just as socially collaborative projects such as Wikipedia are revolutionizing how business gets done, alternate reality games are revolutionizing what activism is and what brands do – and yeah, that change is arriving right now, with explosive force. Photo by Stephen Poff via Flickr.

Lose the game, save the world

Lose the game, save the world?

Via Philip Trippenbach’s blog, I found OILIGARCHY, a fun (and instructive) little flash game by WWO friend Molleindustria. Or should I say, “a playable commentary on the oil industry” as Molleindustria terms OILIGARCHY in their excellent dissection of their own game. OILIGARCHY, it seems to me, is a model for these types of games in that it’s transparent about its biases.

My own play result surprised me a bit, in that I did “good.” I dispossessed and killed relatively few people, and left ANWR and Iraq alone.  At game end, I weaned America off its oil addiction, set it on a course toward a better and sustainable quality of life, kept my board of directors happy (and if not happy, more perplexed than angry) and even made a killing (which Molleindustria points out is not hard) and retired happy. Instructively, the secret seemed to be (spoiler): I declined to spend cash to rig the U.S. political system. Hmmm….

Here’s a timely blog post by Philip Trippenbach of the BBC about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). Philip is responding to Dan Hon’s rousing closer at the Let’s Change The Game: ARGs For Charity And Education Conference in London (a conference I should have attended, considering all the Friends of WWO there are at the BBC). Dan’s key point was that ARG designers suck, but said in a very sympathetic and helpful way, and Philip has riffed on that with an eye towards the future of journalism.

ARGs that don't suck

Changing the game: ARGs that don't suck

What cheers me is that consensus says: World Without Oil didn’t suck. It’s the counterexample to Dan’s rant, and Philip derives five takeaways for journalists, things they can learn from games like WWO:

• Network effectively
• Focus your public with a challenge structure
• Be platform agnostic
• Tell stories collaboratively
• Interact

I think the upshot is going to be more and better ARGs: more democratic, more participatory, more relevant. Photo of SleeperCell volunteers by Adrian.

It's got a cup holder and everything

It's got a cup holder and everything

WWO fan Leslie and others alert me that an interview I did last year for NPR with Jim Fleming has been recycled as part of a To The Best Of Our Knowledge segment on going green. You might give it a listen – not for my segment necessarily (about 40 min in) but for the fascinating (and WWO-echoing) early segments with Colin Beavan and Jeff Ferrell and right after mine, the “kid’s future” segment by Anne Strainchamps.

Leslie notes, “The host asked about your favorite WWO posting. One of my favorites was from a pharmacist who worked out a delivery route to serve his customers who lived at a nearby retirement home. I also appreciated the folks who were digging up their lawns to put in vegetable gardens. We have a couple of beds and will probably add more in time. My mother-in-law’s neighbors in Dubuque landscape with vegetables tucked in and around the shrubs. Very pretty.” Photo by tofutti break via Flickr.

Revolution is in the air

Revolution: it's in the air

The world’s energy system is at a crossroads. Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable – environmentally, economically, socially. But that can – and must – be altered; there’s still time to change the road we’re on. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us today: securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation to a low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply. What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution. – World Energy Outlook 2008, IEA

Following up my earlier post, the IEA report came out on November 12, and the message is crystal clear: one way or another, we are about to have a revolution. We can choose a green energy revolution, or we can sleepwalk into a brown revolution of climatic cataclysms and energy shortages, of which the World Without Oil game is just the beginning. Energy Revolution Graphic by Ken Eklund

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.