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Two serious games, where players address real-world challenges

on Thu, 04/28/2011 - 11:59

I’ve been working on the development of a global commons oriented game since I first watched Jane McGonigal’s TED talk. Reading her book, I started envisioning the game's core idea, challenges, and gameplay. As it frequently happens, when i become passionate and focused on a possibility, news, ideas, connections and other resources start showing up.

The latest example is my serendipitous discovery that there's already a Commons game where players address real-world challenges. 

I have not yet had a chance to play it but if you will be in New York City on June 19, don't miss the Come Out and Play festival, where it will be introduced. 

Its descriptions says:

Commons is a game for urban communities to improve their city through citizen stewardship. The game was selected as the winner of the first Games for Change Real-world Challenge.

With Commons, you can compete to do good, while problems in your city get fixed. Report a problem or suggest an improvement in your neighborhood that you think deserves attention and resources. Then vote on everyone else’s reports and suggestions, and see what’s most popular. As you progress through the game by reporting about your real-world environment, you will earn the ability to develop your own personalized cityscape. Watch your commons grow!


Commons is a multi-player location-based mobile game played on a smartphone. Players go around a neighborhood and use a mobile phone to submit “City Task”, which is to say 1) report a problem in the neighborhood, or 2) suggest an improvement in the neighborhood. Each “City Task” consists of a text description (maximum 140 characters) including the street intersection where the issue exists, and a photo.

When a player submits a “City Task”, he/she has to decide whether the task is a problem or a suggested improvement, and hence the task will be categorized in the database as such. Here are some examples of both types of “City Tasks”:

Problem: Cracked sidewalk in front of subway station. William & Pine St.

Suggested Improvement: Put lights in bball court – how we gonna see those slam dunks?! Broadway & Liberty St.

Suggested Improvement: Need more bike racks at Chambers St station. Church and Warren.

When a “City Task” is submitted to the database, it is then sent anonymously to a random sampling of players via push-notification on the phone for voting. Players receive the notification on their phone and choose to vote: “Vote Yes” or “Not Interested” for the idea, based on whether they think that task is a good idea and if they think it deserves attention and resources.

In Commons, players not only react to their real-world city environment, they also earn the ability to develop their own piece of land in a virtual environment as they advance through gameplay. Each time a player submits a “City Task”, he/she earns the ability to develop one additional item on his/her virtual cityscape. In this way, players can have fun building their own personal cityscape and watching it develop over time.

Addressing real-world challeneges is the common feature of that game and the one that I'm working on. The gameplay and the playing field of my game will be very different, and I am grateful to the creatorsof the Commons game for the inspiration to re-focus my intention on developing a global-scale, commons-themed game. For now, I call it:

New Civ Now

a prototype for gamifying 

the transition to a sustainable civilization

Its core idea, as I see it now, is two-fold

1. Connect players with how the future is already present and how it is distributed in the new ways of organizing social and economic systems, at both local and global scales.

2. Challenge, and enable the players to self-organize into teams for participating in the main game event, a competition of real-world prototypes, the prices of which coud be either epert support for designing a high-impact crowdfunding campaign, or some seed money if the New Civ Now game gets crowdfunded.

I'm still in the early phase of envisioning the game design; will post updates to this blog, as the seeds of the design start sprouting thanks to my conversation with playful commoners and commons-friendly geeks...


mark's picture

I am very greatful for your insights here George, now I can see how games can interact with our localities and our whole world to create happy, creative, joyful places to live. Thank you and I look forward to playing!