Urgent Evoke: Online Learning as an Adventure Game

Some country in the Middle East. A woman senator, the proponent of a bill to give women equal rights to vote, has a problem. Sareh, an outspoken activist of the women’s rights movement, has been kidnapped and is being forced to issue statements that the parliament should NOT approve the women’s voting rights bill. The senator calls on Alchemy, who resides in Senegal and is the organizer of a secret network of stealth innovators. Alchemy issues an Urgent Evoke.

Urgent Evoke © World Bank Institute

Urgent Evoke © World Bank Institute

Agents from around the world spring into action to solve the problem. An agent from Ghana flies in to convince professional women in the said Middle East country to come forward and share their stories on television, thus empowering them. Another agent from Kenya parachutes in to try to setup a venture fund for women and the businessmen of the said country refuse to support it. A third agent from South Africa approaches a geek who with the help of his other geek friends finds the location where Sareh is being held. Alchemy confirms the location with satellite imagery and informs the senator who sends in the troops to free Sareh. Parliament gives women the right to vote. The women’s venture fund is setup with “outside” support.

This is the storyline of Episode 6: Empowering Women in Urgent Evoke, the social change adventure game that was developed by the World Bank and ran for 10 weeks on the social networking platform ning. The goal of the game was “to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.” First season’s ten episodes covered social innovation, food security, power shift, water crisis, future of money, empowering women, urban resilience, indigenous knowledge, and crisis networking. There already has been promises of a Season 2.

Each mission set out three objectives for the agents. They had to:

  • LEARN – Investigate our great challenges and share what you discover;
  • ACT – Get out in the world. Do something small to help solve a real problem; and
  • IMAGINE – Unleash your creativity. Tell a story about the future you want to make.

19,242 agents took part in various missions and fulfilled these objectives for reward points. Active players were assigned secret missions and completing those resulted in bonus points. Many participants came up with “Evokations” or real world projects that they are planning to launch which elicited feedback and support from the community and bonus points from the organizers. (see more at About Evoke Game | How to Play)

As of this writing, participants are waiting to find out the winners who would get various prizes such as online mentorship, seed funding, or travel scholarships. There seems to be many parallel efforts to keep the connections alive, collaborate on evokations, and continue the initiative, all of which spells success for the larger effort.

While the game itself may have been successful, the content and message buried in the game leaves so much to be desired. The biggest problem I have is with the way the game deals with the “locals.” While the outside experts seem to have all the answers, the “locals” are either calling for help (the senator), or waiting for a savior to empower them (professional women who go on television), or being downright opposing (businessmen who oppose the venture fund) change.

The same big-brotherly attitude carries over to the game as well. From providing the answer to the problems (couldn’t we have presented just the problem at the beginning of the mission and asked the agents to find a solution instead of providing the answer?) to links for exploring, suggestions for ways to act, there is a lot of spoon-feeding which seem antithetical to the games message of agents being super-charged self-starting innovators.

While I decry the content and message of the game, I also want to applaud the game developers for doing several things right. For one, it is very difficult to create a thriving community in 10 weeks which Urgent Evoke accomplished. Even more importantly, game developers seemed to have cracked the tough nut of creating an online environment that encouraged exploring, learning, and sharing. Many variables have contributed to this: the 40+ individuals who are credited with various aspects of the game; the World Bank brand name; the built-in incentive structure for online actions; a community of moderator-managers…

So, to the game developers and World Bank Institute: a big thanks for all the valuable lessons that the first season of Urgent Evoke has provided. And, all the very best for the second season (psst: mobile phone based game may work better if you want to reach young people in Africa).

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One Response to Urgent Evoke: Online Learning as an Adventure Game

  1. Catherine says:

    Interesting stuff. I hadn’t heard of Evoke…where did you find out about this? I’m also curious as to whether these types of games actually have a real world impact, or if they are just fun things for the creators to set up. I would think the World Bank would expect to see some results, though doubt this type of thing requires much in the way of resources. Wonder how they got the word out to participants?…

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Usha.

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