Tools to Produce Social Change: Village the Game

14 03 2007

Last night, we went to NetSquared’s Net Tuesday in San Francisco and listened to Darian Hickman speak about his multi-player strategy game, Village, where each gamer is an entrepreneur building companies to bring prosperity to the villages of the third world.

We listened to some of Darian’s concerns as:

1. How can we build a game to produce social change – educating and engaging individuals in developing countries problems?
2. How can we best build a tool which imitates the real-world, that entrepreneurs and individuals can use for taking action outside the game?
3. How can we have this game make money and become popular?

The game is currently designed for:

1. Individuals in developed nations who can play the game and then donate money to businesses that are producing valuable innovations and change.
2. Social entrepreneurs who play the game, can network with individuals that are different capacities in the game – like mico-lending or bringing irrigation tools into villages, and eventually notice what works in different villages and countries in the game and apply that to their real world experience in bringing change to those villages.

Darian’s vision is that as the processes are automated, a game, such as his, will be able to have an impact in the real world. For example, with our credit card number or paypal account, and a few pieces of personal information, some day we will be able to search on Google Earth for a piece of land anywhere in the world, click on it, and if its for sale, buy it. So why not create a game that enables a community of people to virtually engage in humanitarian entrepeneurship work in Africa or Central America where they can virtually be in contact with locals and other players with a wide array of expertise. Some day, an individual who sells irrigation equipment in the game can coordinate with some other player who is familiar with microcredit and thus make it possible to have negotions in this virtual game that will have impact in the real world.

The point of the game is to gain “village points” while dealing with financial concerns, Village points are based on declared point values for financial, social, and environmental work. You can take a look, and get involved with the initial declarations here.

To deal with some of the above concerns, Darian is speaking with real-world experts in various countries who, as we understand it, send him “requirements” for the game. The companies that you can bring into a village are businesses which have a track record of producing noticeable differences in countries around the world. He is keeping the game two-dimensional, designed after World of Warcraft II, so that it can be used on a variety of systems throughout the world.

The first edition of the game will be a download which you can sign up for here. It will be a single player game where users can send their comments to Darian. Then a year later, he will release the multi-player game.

At the same time, though, we listened to what Darian said as having the following major problem: Darian is trying to design and build the perfect game for dealing with major challenges. And the potential of this game to harness the “wisdom of the crowds” is missing. When asked how he would grow the game and incorporate new things he said that, at first, he would bring in the companies based on track records. Over time, he said experts and those working in the field could suggest improvements. Also, those with many village points, which he said was a measure of trust, would probably be allowed to make changes. But it sounded like he didn’t want to open up changes in the game to everybody. His concern here, it sounds like, is that he doesn’t want a lot of non-relevant, non-effective businesses and practices to enter the game, making the game less relevant for reality.

The game lacks a mechanism to create social value. He is too focused on a process to measure social value, rather than create it. A good exmaple for him to follow and examine is Ebay’s user-rating, as a method to build identity in the site. If the rules of The Village are designed correctly, and the shared concern made clear, then allowing for a network of user-generated content could improve flexibility – catering to local problems and enriching the distinction of “Village Points” — and how relevant this game is in the world.

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One response

15 03 2007
sarahcove

In Wealth of Networks, Benkler talks about the potential of peer-to-peer networks. The example he gives is with music-sharing software like Napster or KaZaa: “with ridiculously low financial investment, a few teenagers and twenty-something-year-olds were able to write software and protocols that allowed tens of millions of computer users around the world to cooperate in producing the most efficient and robust file storage and retrieval system in the world.” (p 85) Not taking advantage of the computing power and speed, and the knowledge of the billions of people on the earth, could be a significant lost opportunity for this game.

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