The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jul 03, 2012

New report looks at ties between mobile games and civic engagement

Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller


Innovative mobile games, especially those that take place at the local level and focus on issues like art or civics, are often relatively low profile. Thus, it’s hard to determine their impact on communities and the larger engagement field.

A new report seeks to address that problem by profiling nearly 40 games and revealing key opportunities and constraints that will be useful to both practitioners and academics. It outlines the emerging field of mobile and pervasive games across three dimensions: civic learning, performance/art and social change.

The Civic Tripod for Mobile and Games: Activism, Art and Learning,” argues that these three domains are currently fragmented, which makes the learnings hard to share. Its authors believe that this fragmentation of isolated examples undermines the ability to think big, design holistically and evaluate more broadly.

The authors hope that by curating a set of important mobile projects and connecting them across issue areas, they’ll be able to weave them together across their distinct fields of practice.  The different domains of civic learning, performance/art and social change “can and should speak jointly,” the report said.

One of the games featured is a real-world game funded by Knight Foundation, which brought individuals together to address local challenges in Macon, Ga. The game, Macon Money, featured an alternative form of local currency to connect residents to each other and to attract and expose people to local business in the community. According the report, Macon Money “hints at an important future model for mobile.”

Knight recently released its own in-depth evaluation which examined the impact of Macon Money and another foundation-funded game designed to teach hurricane preparedness called Battlestorm. As part of the report, the foundation created an interactive data visualization, synthesizing the Macon Money findings. Mayur Patel, Knight’s vice president/strategy and assessment, also blogged about the lessons learned from funding social impact games.

The goal of the report is to start a conversation that looks across cases and ties theories together across multiple disciplines. Its curators and authors - Susana Ruiz, Benjamin Stokes and Jeff Watson - are interested in finding out what information and content others would add to this report, including potential next steps for research and whether the format is useful in reaching practitioners and academics. They’re also hoping to connect this report to several existing practitioner communities. As a starting point, they identify two groups that are likely to discuss these issues: Games For Change and the Mobile Active Discussion List.

The site’s structure is part of its contribution to the field. It features a curated database of gaming projects, interviews with high-profile game designers and several cross-linking essays. One of the other projects featured is the Knight-supported Community PlanIt, which uses games to engage communities in local planning efforts.

The report is published by MIT Press/International Journal of Learning and Media and was initially funded by Intel.

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