During her talk at TED 2010, Jane McGonigal argued that game developers have a responsibility to change the world for the better by harnessing the efforts of gamers to improve the real world. Her dream is to see a game developer win the Nobel Prize by 2032. EVOKE, McGonigal’s most recent foray into the serious games arena, launched on March 3rd and may be a step towards achieving that goal. To date, there are over 9,000 agents registered on the site, with more joining every day.
The primary outlet for gameplay in EVOKE is the EVOKE Network itself. After creating a profile on the game’s ning social networking platform, agents can post blogs, images, or video files responding to a number of Quests and Missions. Alternatively, content can be added or accessed via SMS, mobile web, or mobile Facebook to make the game more accessible to players without access to computers. By successfully completing Quests and Missions, students can earn “mission runes” and achievement badges to track their progress. They can also award EVOKE Powers to contributions that excel in a number of different categories. Structurally, the EVOKE Network is similar to McGonigal’s previous project, Top Secret Dance Off, which relied on the community to identify and reward positive contributions while offering loosely structured challenges.
In addition to the EVOKE Network, the game provides an opportunity to learn more about the EVOKE organization and its leader, Alchemy, through a series of weekly graphic novels taking place in the year 2020. Through EVOKE, Alchemy provides anonymous services to countries in desperate need of assistance in exchange for a percentage of the profits from their contributions. Meanwhile, a second, equally secretive organization is seeking information about EVOKE for unknown reasons. So far, interactivity has been limited to the EVOKE Network, with the graphic novel serving as a passive accompaniment to the larger discussion. For example, in the first two installments of the graphic novel, EVOKE solved a food shortage in Tokyo without requiring or asking for the assistance of the game’s players.
The early days of EVOKE have largely been dedicated to establishing an infrastructure for future interaction, with players establishing a wiki, organizing into specialist guilds based on area of interest, and becoming familiar with the site’s interface. However, agents are already starting to reach out to their communities. Cape Town EVOKE agent Reid Falcolner visited a local ecovillage to learn more about sustainable farming, while Massachusetts-based agent Amanda Jeffrey started an urban gardening project.
In spite of these early efforts, EVOKE has been subject to some criticism. While Six to Start’s Adrian Hon questions whether games can save the world based on low participation rates from past serious games, the parody site Urgent Invoke accuses the game of being a propaganda device for the game’s sponsor, the World Bank Institute.
With over 9000 agents currently enrolled, EVOKE has the potential to promote change and collaboration across communities and disciplines. However, in order to succeed, players and developers need to find a more efficient method of disseminating information to its ever expanding player base. While a number of players and mentors are producing summary posts drawing attention to outstanding contributions, finding information on relevant issues and initiatives is still a challenge. Furthermore, while the EVOKE Network has established itself as a powerful collaborative platform, it has not yet demonstrated an equally compelling element of play to make the experience fun.