Evoke -The Social Network That Churns Virtual Game Theory Into 'We Are The World'

If you were tasked with saving the world in 10 short weeks, where would you possibly begin. Well if you're a gamer or an optimist, you might consider kicking the tires of a new type of social network. Evoke is a mash-up of the virtual and real worlds that is markedly different from any gaming enterprise that went before. Become your own super hero and solve the world's greatest challenges by evoking collaboration, creativity, entrepreneurship, resourcefulness ...and yes, even courage.

Massive multiplayer online role playing games known as MMORG have gained popularity as a result of the success of "Farmville' and 'Mafia Wars" attracting tens of thousands of players on Facebook. "Second Life" is a 3D virtual world where users can socialize in an alternate universe of avatars and simulated life experiences. Evoke differs from its predecessors by engaging its players to take what they learn in the gaming world and apply it toreal-life problem solving.

According to their Web site (UrgentEvoke.com), "the goal of the social network game is 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 problem." Evoke is the brainchild of alternate reality game master Jane McGonigal under the auspices of World Bank Institute, the learning and knowledge arm of the World Bank Group.

Jane is a firm believer that "reality is broken (and) designers can fix it." Last year, Jane as the director of game research & development at Institute for the Future talks about how online gaming can transcend it's original boundaries to go beyond the virtual to enter the real world. Her desire is to apply game theory to class room teaching and real-world objectives.

In 2007, she created an online game called "World Without Oil," which challenged people to re-imagine their lives without their dependence on fossil fuels. McGonigal did not conduct scientific focus groups with the game's 1,700 players, but instead received feedback from many of the players. They Crude Behavior, Graphic NovelCrude Behavior, Graphic Novelreported their energy consumption habits changed during the game and affects their actions even to this day. In my graphic novel, Crude Behavior, I satirized how the Cheney and the Bush Administration used oil as an excuse for war.  If more people signed up for Jane's game perhaps we would be further along today in solving the 'alternate fuel' options we are still struggling to find today.

The idea for Evoke originated from the African proverb,"If you have a problem, and you can't solve it alone, EVOKE it." Evoke players will spend 10 weeks from March 3, 2010 to May 12, 2010 solving the social problems that are plaguing Africa and other parts of the world. Latecomers are still welcome.

Players of Evoke will tackle hunger, poverty, water security, human rights, disaster relief, healthcare, education, sustainable energy, and social conflict, while learning collaboration, entrepreneurship, resourcefulness, knowledge networking, and sustainability.

Gamers who succeed in completing all 10 missions and all 10 quests will receive the World Bank Institute Certified Social Innovator, Class of 2010 recognition. They will also have the knowledge that they have helped solve critical issues, as the World Bank Institute is using Evoke to help find innovative, creative solutions for these very real problems. A decade from now, gamers who completed Evoke will also be able to know if they succeeded in helping to bring about the best-case scenarios for the future.

Depending on how well the game goes, Evoke could influence the future of alternate reality gaming and spur more innovation in Africa. Bob Hawkins, senior education specialist with the World Bank Institute, said one major reason people in African countries aren't as entrepreneurial and innovative as those in the West is that they don't feel as empowered to create change. That's largely why his international development group is funding McGonigal's project to the tune of $500,000.

If you are not going to actually engage in Jane's social experiment, you might want to watch its progress over the ten weeks and beyond. It definitely a feel-good project that's unique in its design and admirable for its objective in motivating gamers who are often dismissed as 'slackers.' Becoming a super hero in one's own real-life graphic novel might appear to be a whimsical endeavor by some - but for me I think it is lofty goal that we should all try to aspire to, whether or not we take Evoke out for a spin.


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