Governments engage residents with games
Moving beyond public service announcements, flyers and websites, some local governments have begun using games to address community issues. The games are helping cities and counties reach residents — youths and adults, tech-savvy and not — and engage them with their surroundings and each other.
Last year, officials in Macon, Ga., contracted with Miami, Fla.-based non-profit Knight Foundation to create a game that could address two of the city's concerns: social divisions and economic development. The result was “Macon Money,” which rewarded participating residents with currency to spend at local businesses.
Upon request to the Macon Money office, residents received half of a bond worth between $10 and $100. They then had to find someone with a matching half — whether through Facebook, Twitter, other social media or local events — to redeem it for Macon Money. When the game ended in June, 2,688 residents had received a combined $65,000 worth of Macon Money to spend at 41 local businesses.
The benefits of the game went beyond economics, says Andrew Blascovich, director of external relations for Macon Mayor Robert Reichert's office. “People were getting out and meeting their neighbors. It was the perfect ice breaker,” Blascovich says. “It is a great model for how a community can break down barriers and a great local stimulus idea.”
While many of the games developed by the Knight Foundation and other non-profit developers focus on adults, some are targeting a younger audience. Harrison County, Miss., worked with the Knight Foundation, Red Cross, the Humane Society and others to develop and promote Battlestorm, a game that combines elements of capture the flag and freeze tag to teach kids about hurricane preparedness. Teams of students play against an adult team and receive points they can redeem for “special powers” when other youth upload a photo of their hurricane preparedness kits — including bottled water, toiletries and pet supplies — to a designated website.
The points can buy the team extra players, balls or additional minutes of the game — referred to as preparedness items, such as rain jackets, generators and batteries. Before Harrison County's Battlestorm game took place in May, the students had practice sessions, helping promote exercise in addition to storm readiness. “If we're reaching children, they'll take the message home to their parents,” says Rupert Lacy, director of Harrison County Emergency Management.
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.
One for all
In designing community engagement games for local governments, it's best to take a universal approach, says Asi Burak, co-president of New York-based Games for Change. “Whatever we do with the city, we do it in a way that's creating a model that can be replicated,” Burak says.