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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.

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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.

Now more than ever

Citizen contributions, now more than ever

Responding to the crisis of the World War I and II years, people planted Victory Gardens. By raising their own food, citizens cut the demand for outside food and saved the fuel that would otherwise be needed to bring food to them. More important, they increased the resilience of the economy (by decentralizing food production, by being able to make their own decisions about distribution, and so on). And most important of all, they thus became an active part of the war effort – “Food is Fighting!” as several government posters succinctly put it. One result: an extraordinarily unified country.

Now we fast-forward to 2008. Whether or not the government chooses to acknowledge it, there’s another crisis going on – or more precisely, a concatenating and synergistic series of crises with feet already in the door. And many people are responding appropriately: by planting the Victory Gardens of 2008, by riding bicycles and taking transit, by driving efficient cars and hybrids, by eating locally, by building green, by cutting waste, by building communities and debating solutions, and so on.

The differences between then and now are notable – and to my mind, ominous. Then, these citizen actions were actively encouraged by The Powers That Be, which tallied their contributions and recognized them as important. Then, the White House boasted its own Victory Garden. Today, however, these citizen actions are actively discouraged by the government in favor of Consumerism As Usual, and the contributions these citizens are making are not recognized or even tabulated.  Instead, we hear the “drill!” mantra, even though the citizen conservation approach has the potential to produce (via saving) more than 10 times the energy that drilling would net, in a quarter of the time. And once again the potential to unify the country, not divide it further.

Support the military, now more than ever

Support the military, now more than ever

In the World Without Oil project, we simulated the first 32 weeks of an global oil shortage. In the simulation, the government did very little and it was up to the people to crowdsource their own solutions to the crisis. Unfortunately, as with many other revelations from World Without Oil, government inaction seems to be coming true. Will it be up to the people to crowdsource their way into a viable and better way of life? The good news is, we’ve already started.


I’m at the Games 4 Change conference in New York. It actually begins Tuesday, June 3, but today there was a preconference event, “Game Design 101,” an intensive program to give possible Serious Game funders and collaborators a head start on the behavior of game designers and the elements of game projects. I went because, well, I can always use a good review of the basics of my profession.

One of the interactive exercises was “designing a game in 1 hour.” In the picture above, our first-round facilitator, Mary Flanagan (director of tiltfactor lab), waves goodbye flanked by my teammates Anne and Tam. Our team eventually came up with a food politics game called “One Potato Two Potato,” a card game that explored the many complex factors behind where your food comes from. You play from the POV of a potato farmer.

Tomorrow I’m on a panel entitled “Alternate Reality Games for Change,” sitting with some pretty heavy hitters (Jordan Weisman, Frank Lantz) and moderated by Peggy Weil. Go WWO!

photo by Michallon via FlickrThanks, John Thackara, for alerting me to the City Eco Lab being planned for November, in st. Etienne, France. City Eco Lab are “design steps to a one-planet economy”: by demonstrating a full range of projects that rethink a city’s consumption of fuel, food, energy, water, etc., CEL moves the focus beyond an individual’s choices to the systems that citizens depend on for their livelihood. It’s a really great idea and one that should be extended to cities in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Is it possible, however, that an oil crisis will strike St. Etienne even as the City Eco Lab gets underway? And citizens of St. Etienne will be phoning in reports live as the crisis progresses? It’s certainly possible, given the current state of fuel protests spreading like wildfire across Europe. And it’s possible in a WWO sense too (and maybe you can help). Stay tuned.  Photo of St. Etienne tram by Michallon via Flickr

by Robert WhitlockSo said Peter Carroll, a representative for the trucking industry in the UK, about fuel prices, shortly after he parked his big rig on the A40, closing that major artery into London. The blockades are beginning again in Europe, in a manner prescient of the Petrol Wars of 2000, which pretty much shut down France and the UK at that time.

The problem is this: ordinary citizens can adapt to rising fuel costs by using transit or cutting back miles driven. But truckers, fishermen etc. have no such elasticity to their lives, and now that diesel is near $10 a gallon they’re not about to suffer alone.

Which brings up the question: when can we expect renewed blockades and truckers’ strikes in the US, where truckers are similarly stretched past the breaking point? Expect no warning, as these events, loosely organized by CB and cell phone, are classic flashmobs.

Photo by Robert Whitlock via Flickr

Mervin Jarman with trophy and Challenge emceesIt’s impossible really to communicate how inspiring it was to be in the august Stockholm City Hall and receive the full-on Nobel Prize treatment, but maybe this picture of Mervin Jarman, one of the Education winners for his excellent Container Project, gives you some idea. You can find a full list if the winning projects here.

World Without Oil did very well in the Challenge, bringing home a Special Mention (i.e., it was a runner-up) in the Environment category. The Environment winner is the World Weather Information Service, a global source for free, updated weather information based  in Hong Kong. A vitally necessary service indeed in a food-challenged, climate-changed world.

(Below: The Stockholm City Choir serenading the diners. We are in the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall, the same room where Nobelists meet and present their awards.)

at the Stockholm Challenge Awards Dinner 2008

The Stockholm Challenge has brought together people using information technology for civic purposes from all over the globe. Naturally we’ve been networking like mad. In this quick video, the finalists in attendance from the Environment category list their partnership needs. Anybody know of a potential resource?

Gathering Information Technology ideas from around the world

Here’s a map showing the home locations of the finalists in the 2008 Stockholm Challenge. There are some great ideas and great works going on all over the globe, and I’m looking forward to meeting some of them in Stockholm next week and exchanging some knowledge.

Plus: Corrina McFarlane (Bodi Lane in WWO) pinged me on Saturday, which was Pangea Day – an exciting day of global connection. She’s collected reader comments on her blog.

May 10, 2008

Finger Lakes Environmental Film FestivalThe Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) is “a one-week multimedia interarts extravaganza that reboots the environment and sustainability into a larger global conversation, embracing issues ranging from wars, health, diseases, music, digital arts, cinemas, popular cultures, fine arts, experimental media, literature, economics, archives, AIDS, women’s rights, and human rights.” I was pretty delighted to find that World Without Oil earned a place in the exhibition of serious games at FLEFF this year, curated by Ulises Mejias of SUNY Oswego. From his notes: “World without Oil… was entirely a discursive, transmediated experience, as open as human expression itself. The goal, according to Sebastian Mary, was to facilitate ‘collaborative problem-solving to escape the boundaries of gaming and become a real-world way for distributed groups of people to address a problem they cannot fix by themselves.'”

Here in Phoenix, I’m waiting for 8 pm to roll around, so I can power down.  It’s Earth Hour, time to turn down the energy consumption, if just for an hour. This is a great idea, very playful, and people are getting into the spirit by getting the candles ready, camping out in the back yard, and so on. And the lesson is right out of WWO: c’mon, there’s life with less energy, and we can make it a good life if we act rather than react. OK, that’s enough – it’s so cool I’m powering down ten minutes early. See you in the dark!

Keynote at SXSW 08WWO’s own Jane McGonigal delivered the closing keynote at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference, and her theme was “the future of happiness” featuring of course “games as the ultimate happiness engine.” World Without Oil was a case study in her talk, which may seem odd, as one doesn’t normally associate an oil crisis (real or simulated) with happiness. But as she spelled out in her talk, the latest research on happiness shows otherwise. As Jane aptly put it, “happiness is not (just) a warm puppy”; lasting happiness actually has more to do with doing something worthwhile with people you like, and that’s WWO all over. See Jane’s slideshow (and Soulja Boy dance) via her blog, Avant Game (edit) and a transcript of her talk by ARG mastermind Dan Hon of Six To Start. (photo by Ken Eklund)

Activism Award for World Without OilWWO wins the Activism Award at South By Southwest – thanks Krystyn for pointing us to this great photo at WIRED. And thanks ARGNet for spreading the news. Kudos to all the members of the WWO team – a well-deserved honor.

Folks, you should check out the other finalists in the SXSW Activism category – they are all great sites:

Amnesty International: Tear It Down

Boost

MakeMeSustainable

The Point

SXSW People’s AwardDay 3 of the SXSW Interactive Festival – finding lots of interest in the idea of using ARGs in serious ways. Tonight’s the night of the SXSW web awards, and WWO is up for an award in the “making the world a better place” (Activism) category: Cathy Fischer of ITVS, Dee Cook and I are on hand and Jane McGonigal is flying in even as I write this. (And we hope to connect with even more WWO teammates by phone.) Double awards tension for us, as ITVS’ Independent Lens is also up for an award in the Classic category. Looking forward to a fun evening and very much thinking about the thousands of individual contributions that have brought us here… Thinking that it’s like The Wizard of Oz: it’s not the people behind the curtain, but the players in front who have given the WWO story courage, brains, and most of all, heart.

In case you haven’t seen it…

SXSW People’s AwardWWO was a people-powered, democratic game, and thus a natural candidate for the People’s Choice award at the SXSW Interactive festival. Follow this link to vote – and vote once a day through March 3. (I’m certainly making my preference known every 24 hours.) Help put oil consumption on the national radar!

South By Southwest Web Awards 2008World Without Oil has been nominated for a number of web awards, and yesterday we got word that it’s a Top Five finalist in the 2008 South By Southwest Interactive competition, in the “Activism” category. You can see the list of finalists here (some pretty cool sites, yow). Plus WWO sponsor ITVS has its Independent Lens website as a finalist in the “Classic” category… plus WWO’s participation architect Jane McGonigal (some of you know her as mpathytest) will be a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive on Tuesday, March 11. So we look to be well represented at SXSW – let me know if you’re gonna be around.

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.