# Humanitarian Gamification: Designing a game to save the world?

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2 hours ago, Tom Sloper said:

OK. That's a good focus. To get some ideas flowing, think of sayings or phrases other than the paper cuts thing. Like daily good deeds, or "paying it forward," or mountains from molehills.

A name for the game has actually come up along those lines, but I'm supposed to keep it a secret. And I HAAAATE keeping secrets!!!

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We are looking at Edutainment, as you said.

When you refer to "saving the world" my first thought is keeping the environment we exist in survivable/livable.  To me it's an environmental concern. Financial and other concerns disappear when the air doesn't even have enough oxygen to sustain our species..

Generally speaking the education part is the most important.  The idea of making a game out of environmental concerns causes some hesitation in my mind. Since we are looking at educating the player, why not have it function as a simulation initially. The simulation teaching the player what their real world environment looks like and how it is eroding. Then the education comes in, how to, where to, why to etc do a specific thing and how it helps or harms. The game allows MMO style interactions and coordination to continue progress, but is not a requirement, players can make much slower but definable progress alone.  Then the applicable local organization that works with that particular aspect of the environment is where the real world interaction starts. Players then donate time or help raise awareness via said organization and earn achievements and in-game progress. Lock significant rewards behind this interaction, causing a drive to participate real world, but participation is not a requirement for game progress. As the player progresses the real world interactions become more frequent and the in-game rewards become greater. Then, near the top end of the game, the real world interactions are about 50% of the game, rewards are accordingly difficult or rare. You can design class structure around specific environmental concerns (Metal/plastic/Electronic Recyclist, Water/Air Conservist, etc). As each player progresses in their class they are educated on the entire process of each class. For Example: how recycling plastic works and why we can recycle certain plastics but not all of them. This information is stored in each classes instructional database....

Edit:

Read the blog post.  Continuing on.

Simulation first, education within the simulation.  in game results from in game decisions. in-game results from real world decisions, and eventually in-game and real world results from real world decisions. I think you're best bet is to make this a slow transitional game. The simulation part I believe will be the most difficult. Probably have some basic idea of how it scales based on individual and group efforts.  For example if a player is playing alone and doing all these environmentally improving things their progress is slower than a person who is collaborating 10 people to make changes, but there's a cap also, no more than XX people.  The simulation is a microcosm of the players immediate environment uninfluenced by the world at large. The changes the player and their "guildmates" make affect their microcosm, and progress to that microcosm is greater when more guildies participate. Greater progress to the Microcosm is achieved when multiple people participate. Huge rewards and Mile-stones for Real world action - failure to participate means those who didn't show up lose out until that activity is undertaken again.

I could go on for a long time with some structural ideas, Feel free to message me for more discussion if you're interested.

Edited by Joseph Al-Tal

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9 hours ago, Joseph Al-Tal said:

I could go on for a long time with some structural ideas, Feel free to message me for more discussion if you're interested.

Does it have to be a private message? I would love to read what others start thinking when reading your ideas, too!

On environmentalism, I am thinking that is a "higher tier" challenge, because of how abstract it can seem and how complicated solutions can sometimes be, if you go beyond "recycle stuff". I like the idea that players who progress will start tackling bigger issues, preferably in concert with more and more other players. Environmentalism seems like a good "late stage" challlenge for the very devoted players. Of course, arranging carpooling or alternate transport, or getting a small solar cell etc. can be lower tier, gearing players up for the bigger hurdles regarding the environment!

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I'll be a little bit of a contrarian here, if you don't mind.

First, I think it's great that you and your investor are trying to think of ways to make the world a better place by encouraging humanitarianism in others. That's a really tough challenge, as others have pointed out, but I think it's even harder than anyone is giving it credit, and that's where I start to get worried.

I think it comes down to measures of effectiveness. Let's pretend that you land on an idea, build a game around it, launch it, and deploy it into the wild. One of the objectives of the game is to make the world a better place. How do you know whether that effort was successful or not? How would you measure that to see if you had an effect or not? I think when you launch your game into the wild, it's also going to be based on a lot of assumptions, many of which may turn out to be wrong, so I would expect to see the launch act as just the first iteration at the problem rather than the final solution to it, which means there will be lots of version updates. And, the version updates will need to depend on knowing whether one version was effective or not in changing the world in some effective and meaningful way -- otherwise, you're just shooting in the dark, hoping for the best.

Forget about games for a moment and take a step back and think about "making the world a better place" as an agent of change. Pretend that your investor has given you a hefty sum of money and said, "make the world better somehow". What could you do to get the most bang for your buck? How could you make each dollar have the most possible impact? I think, to clarify, when we say "saving the world", we're talking less about the dirt, rocks, water and air which composes the world, and more about saving the people and other inhabitants of the world (life). In the most broad sense of "saving the world", what we're really trying to do is make living more pleasant for the life currently on earth, right? That could be something as bold as creating a habitat refuge for endangered species facing extinction, to something as simple as encouraging people to smile and say nice things to strangers.

There's already a huge "game" like this happening in china as well, where everyone in the country is a player in the game whether they want to be or not. They have massive surveillance, cameras doing facial recognition, and have begun giving people and their life profiles "digital points" for different social behaviors. This is treated like a credit score on steroids, but it's for social credit. If you have low points, you get low priority treatment, such as being put on the back of the train, denied loans, job interviews cancelled, hassled by law enforcement, etc. Maybe if a camera catches you littering, you'll lose points. If you owe people money, you lose points. If you're late to work, you lose points, etc. It could become the perfect case of a road to hell paved with good intentions, but ends up backfiring because rather than making living more pleasant for everyone, they end up making it worse? I would worry about less than benevolent uses.

Anyways, you're probably looking for game design advice, so here's my advice:
1) Aim for really, really low goals that are achievable. Changing minds or attitudes for the better might be enough.
2) Avoid complexity like the plague
3) Be scientific about how you approach your assumptions (hypothesis -> collect data -> test -> review -> repeat)

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7 minutes ago, slayemin said:

I'll be a little bit of a contrarian here, if you don't mind.

That's part of what I seek, so go right ahead!

Versions: There will be versions. It will be fairly open that one goal is to make better ways to have people help the world, and that means a learning experience for everyone, including us.

People: The main focus is improving people's lives, yes. Anything bigger is "higher tier" stuff.

China: I know, and it scares me!

Good feedback, more is welcome!

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4 hours ago, Embassy of Time said:

On environmentalism, I am thinking that is a "higher tier" challenge, because of how abstract it can seem and how complicated solutions can sometimes be, if you go beyond "recycle stuff". I like the idea that players who progress will start tackling bigger issues, preferably in concert with more and more other players. Environmentalism seems like a good "late stage" challlenge for the very devoted players. Of course, arranging carpooling or alternate transport, or getting a small solar cell etc. can be lower tier, gearing players up for the bigger hurdles regarding the environment!

Being concerned about the environment isn't about the environment and not the people living in it - the happiness of people depends on their environment, their access to resources they need to survive, their sense of security etc. The population angle isn't just about the air quality / green spaces etc. Put 2 rats in a cage and they will live quite happily. Put 100 rats in that same cage and they will tear each other apart fighting for resources. Humans are much the same.

Don't be afraid of looking at the big picture. That is the difference between virtue signalling, and really making constructive changes.

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I think we should avoid the topic of the game.  Environmentalism or humanitarianism.  Teaching people to not be racist? "Making the world a better place" can take on many forms, I think that is more between Embassy and his investors.  We should offer more ideas on what it means so they can consider the options and direction.

I say we stick more to Design.

Going with a Simulation in which player in-game and out-of-game actions have an impact. The levels of the Microcosm grow and expand based upon the action taken out of game by the players.  For example, the Microcosm starts about the size of a small town, 10 mile radius? ish.  The "guild" can improve that microcosm to an amazing flourishing state, but the microcosm doesn't get any bigger until they start taking action in the real world. The idea locked behind real world action is Microcosm growth. I'm thinking of the whole "Think Globally Act Locally" concept.  Whenever the players coordinate and take action in the real world, the microcosm expands. how far it expands is up to the scale of the game, but after dozens if not hundreds of actions, eventually the microcosm isn't so micro and actually becomes the entire planet. (Google maps, zoomed out is the first world map that is accurate to the entire globe. Maybe utilize that as the final stage of the Microcosm. First Expansion Adds Mars? just throwing out wildness) Guilds can take local actions throughout this game and their in game environment expands gradually based on the events they coordinate. Each event gives "experience" to the microcosm based on the number of participants both in game and out of game.

Non-Player Real World Characters (NPRC? NPRWC?) - The organization's event coordinator would only need a phone app which records who shows up from the guild, and the number of non-player (non-guild, i'm thinking) participants. Immediately I have concerns about this in the late stages of the game as guilds get to a certain size and unfortunately start competing for a particular organizations events (possibly going to the point of sabotage)... We'd have to design around that, maybe allow multiple guilds to participate and get credit or give bonus exp to a microcosm if there's weird real world competition, kinda like Uber's Surges. Organizations would go through a vetting process, verified via app or live person (game staffing issues become a factor if we go with a live person) to verify they are what they say they are (we don't want someone using their kids phone to create false events, counterproductive to the idea). Maybe during development each organization is contacted and added to a database - phone app is developed and whenever the primary contact is changed the new contact updates their information with your database? but the contact exists in game and can be utilized in game by players. Literally being the quest giver both in game and in real life.

Quests in game are both the little recycling things early early in the game and eventually expand to coordinating awareness raising events with an Organizations representative. Real world events are only available when an organization makes them available.  For example, Organization's App has a "Looking for Volunteers" option in the game, and makes a simple entry for the number of people they need, specifically ZERO information about what work will be done,  we don't want cherry picking. The coordinator would also provide a "Difficulty" rating, 1-10 on how difficult the work would be.  The players see only the number of people needed and the difficulty rating and have to decide if it is something they want to coordinate with their guild.

Sadly I must get to work.  Hopefully I can find the time to expand more after work.

Edit: Also non-organizational real world events.  have to create a list of things a guild can coordinate on their own without an organization involved.  Those events have possibly a reduced experience reward, OR there's a way to verify in app they are participating.

Edited by Joseph Al-Tal

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Social impact ideas can be tested through games. For example, you could make a game about a community, but without the real human community. Not Second Life or Club Penguin.  Say, like the village in Animal Crossing. Just encourage Helpful Honda Guy behavior among the players (don't reward unproductive behaviors), where they're helping NPCs. Theory to be tested by means of the game: do generosity and kindness in a game translate to generosity and kindness in the real world? Or perhaps the question should be: what techniques of encouraging generosity and kindness in a game have a higher likelihood of promoting the same behaviors outside the game?

We can't look at studies about violence in games for help with the question. A recent study says there's no connection between violent video games and real world violence, but other studies have said otherwise. Yes, there's a question as to the funding sources and the methodologies, but the issue is tainted so can't be used as a yardstick for the kindness question.

Making such a game doesn't guarantee that it'll spread. It needs lures to bring players in, and hooks to keep them in and it needs virability (new word?). Start thinking about the marketing side of it while you conceptualize the game. And plan for retention design as well. And yes, as mentioned above, impact measurement is also important. Which means collecting lots of data and turning it into statistics.

How could this Good Deeds game grab interest, catch on, and start having real impact as a brand new IP? Perhaps is there a popular IP that could be attached to it (one that wouldn't go sour or fall out of popularity)? Creating an IP is easy; catching the perfect wave is hard.

Back to my first paragraph, about an Animal Crossing village, single player. Of course you thought differently when I said "without the real human community." But let's put people into our village. Are all the avatars controlled by humans? Let's say for a moment that they are, that there are no NPCs needing your kindness. Gaming the system, circumventing the system, going on rampages are all possible if the digital village is populated by human-controlled avatars.

Or maybe some of them are NPCs? Part of the game (emergent gameplay) might be to figure out before starting a conversation which are human-controlled and which are AI. There's always the direct approach:

"Hi, are you a human?"

"Yeah. Wanna help me across the street? Then you gotta let me give you a thermos of soup from my inventory."

If the game is populated by both human-controlled avatars and AI NPCs, both would need to be integral to the overall play mechanic.

Well. Followed that thought down to the bottom... Who's next?

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On 2/20/2019 at 1:59 PM, lawnjelly said:

Being concerned about the environment isn't about the environment and not the people living in it - the happiness of people depends on their environment, their access to resources they need to survive, their sense of security etc.

Resources and security would be early tiers, for sure. Environmentalism as in climate etc. would be late tier. What kind of resources and security did you have in mind?

On 2/20/2019 at 3:42 PM, Joseph Al-Tal said:

I say we stick more to Design.

Going with a Simulation in which player in-game and out-of-game actions have an impact. The levels of the Microcosm grow and expand based upon the action taken out of game by the players.  For example, the Microcosm starts about the size of a small town, 10 mile radius? ish.

Design is good, but I'm open for all input at this (and any later) stage

A 10 mile territory is too big. Starting scales are more city block size, or local neighbourhood. Small scale, for better overview. My idea was to have early players get the chance of defining the territories near them, according to some criteria, but that's just a thought. When a team (or guild, in your words) reaches a certain level in their territory, they can access adjacent territories, growing as they progress. Actions beyond your territory are allowed, of course, perhaps allowing them to be "softened up" for when the team can expand? Just spitballing, here...

Your entire thing on organizations and NPCs(?) fascinates me, please elaborate when work isn't demanding your time??

On 2/21/2019 at 5:29 AM, Tom Sloper said:

Social impact ideas can be tested through games. For example, you could make a game about a community, but without the real human community. Not Second Life or Club Penguin.  Say, like the village in Animal Crossing. Just encourage Helpful Honda Guy behavior among the players (don't reward unproductive behaviors), where they're helping NPCs. Theory to be tested by means of the game: do generosity and kindness in a game translate to generosity and kindness in the real world? Or perhaps the question should be: what techniques of encouraging generosity and kindness in a game have a higher likelihood of promoting the same behaviors outside the game?

Animal Crossing could be a good pre-study for structure. It and something like Stardew Valley seem to lean on the concept, though of course not IRL. Perhaps a "pure" game as training grounds / tutorial before going IRL? The measuring of progress IRL would need to have some systems of evaluation, of course, I'm still racking my brain on that...

And virability is now a word, at least in my vocabulary!!

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2 hours ago, Embassy of Time said:

Resources and security would be early tiers, for sure. Environmentalism as in climate etc. would be late tier. What kind of resources and security did you have in mind?

Sorry this is probably nomenclature .. I have a biology / ecology background, and there is a simplistic equation:

phenotype = genotype + environment

So in biology environment is everything aside from the genotype, including other individuals of the same species. This is in contrast to the layman use of the word 'environmentalism' which tends to be concerned more with green space, greenhouse gases, wild animals, sitting round a campfire singing 'Kumbaya' etc. So to a biologist a city would be just as much the environment as a savanna in Africa.

Resources are things like food, water, shelter, territory, mates etc, required for growth, maintenance and reproduction. Most humans are happier when they have good access to these resources. When there are too many people in an area, there may not be enough resources to go around and there is competition. Competition can lead to many things we would associate with 'unhappiness' (but ironically drives evolution to make us better as a species).

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