Gaming the System
It's called Armchair Revolutionary and it's the latest high-buzz social media play aiming to crowd-source social change -- only its cofounder, Ariel Hauter, says it is very different from the rest. He puts it simply. "The user experience for online social activism simply sucks," he says. "There's nothing fun" about click-and-give sites. "Why is the experience of activism online so uninspired?" he asks in one of five blog posts offered up this week as part of the site's beta launch.
It is time, Hauter says, for online giving to, well, get "stickier" -- to get less "slacktivist" and more location-aware, experiential, and engaging. Think armies of online gamers playing social games that help finance a series of short-term, "do good" projects over time. Started by the founders of The Hollywood Hill, a social change organization comprised of film, television, music, and gaming professionals in the Los Angeles area, Armchair Revolutionary is aiming to offer the public a chance to help micro-finance for-profit social ventures through its integration with Live Gamer, a micro-payment site. Armchair Revolutionary's advisers include the producer of Pulp Fiction, the producer of An Inconvenient Truth, the screenwriter of The Bourne Ultimatum, the producer of Electronic Arts' MySims and the president of 42 Entertainment, one of the best-known makers of alternate-reality games.
"Arm Rev" as it is otherwise known, reflects the cross-media diversity of its founders, combining the features of Facebook games such as FarmVille with social networking apps like foursquare (the mobile location service), and then throwing in micro-donation opportunities throughout. [Hauter says the goal is to eventually create large-scale "cause mobs" of gamers who can start crowd-sourcing activism in new and bigger ways, tapping not just into one kind of social medium, but into many at a time.] The payoff? Volume. Critical mass. "We are finally getting to a point [in the evolution of Web technologies] where we are able to tap into ... millions of people in a very viral way," Hauter says. ArmRev.org will be the platform for funding games-for-change, serious games, and alternative reality game projects developed by the Play4Change Lab, a collaboration between The Hollywood Hill and the University of Southern California's Games Institute. The site also will be the platform for funding documentary film projects developed by The Hollywood Hill.
Hauter says Arm Rev could take online fund-raising to the next level, pushing it beyond today's click-and-give one-offs to more engaged and sustainable crowd-funding communities. To test its ability to do this, Am Rev is launching with three projects, including a video game called "Make Waves" which incorporates sensors, simulation and augmented reality to promote cleaner and more sustainable waters. In this one, players "own" and maintain a 3-by-3-foot plot of the ocean, just as they would a virtual plot in FarmVille. A player's actions could help ease overfishing and pollution. Another project is called "End of Darkness." It is a game that brings users together to support, with micro-donations, three leading energy and micro-financing organizations -- E+Co, Grameen Foundation, and Selco India. Players work to finance the launch of the first publicly financed international clean energy company selling and servicing low-cost solar power kits to the world's poor. The project also invites leading thinkers to submit their projects for review.
What do you think? Can the combination of virtual worlds, online games and micro-fundraising via social networks help engage millions of new people around social causes in ways that weren't possible before? Is there something in this model that could be applied to the workplace and business teams working to achieve greater employee engagement and innovation?
Let us hear from you.
-- Marcia Stepanek
(Illustration by Chris Gorgio for istock.com)
(This first posted on Justmeans.com and appears here with permission)