Public Policy as a Game

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Gamers can now foresake slaughtering trolls (or one another) on MMORPG fantasy adventures, and instead participate in game intended to drive consensus opinion on major global issues.

Called "Superstruct," it’s "a research platform open to the public" from the Institute For the Future ("IFTF") that’s a multi-media, alternate reality game (or "ARG"). The premise is that players live in a near-future and need to collaborate on finding solutions to issues like homelessness, war, and pandemic diseases. A combination of web interface, blogs, video, and other tools will create the verisimilitude of this "alternate" reality and, in playing the game, people will contribute thinking that may have real-world applications.

I love it.

Gaming is an activity that marketers tend to woefully underestimate, or simply fail to understand entirely. While the ad community is thrilled about inserting ads into games or making "advergames" about brands, it’s the interface and game-playing experience that define branding…and offer rich opportunities for consumer involvement. I wrote an entire chapter on how this might be realized explicitly in my new book, Branding Only Works on Cattle.

Think about the qualities offered by games:

  • Purpose
  • Reward
  • Clear boundaries
  • Linear progression (of a sort)
  • Risk/reward milestones, and
  • An enhanced experience/reputation over time

Imagine if consumers felt that way about their interaction with products and services?

Actually, you could argue that they already do: chasing down fixes in web forums, finding sale prices in a retail store, enjoying benefits for frequent usage…the way we experience much of life is like a game, whether those experiences were conceived as such, or not.

That’s perhaps why so many commercial experiences are unsatisfying. They’re just bad games. Or it just seems like it’s impossible for consumers to win.

The IFTF approach recognizes this reality, and brings to it the creative methodology of an alternate reality. Chevron and The Economist Group have done something similar with a game called "Energyville," which is intended to give people a Sims-like experience of planning for a city’s power usage.

Superstruct comes with lots of requisite blather about harnessing the wisdom of crowds (a non sequitur that gets no more true the more it’s repeated), and there’s no good way to get into it right now. I doubt that people will actually learn much, or collaborate on creating anything but the most basic, simple, common-denominator answers.

But who cares?Getting them involved is the key deliverable. 

The ARG concept is incredibly smart and robust, and I’m thrilled to see game insights being applied to communications challenges.

Imagine if beer or toothpaste brands were equally innovative.

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