Community Engagement: Play to Win

In this time of advancing technology, it is difficult to know the right tool to use for the level of community engagement that is appropriate. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) posted a helpful tool authored by Matthew Leighninger to assist public officials in making this determination, “Using Online Tools to Engage and Be Engaged by the Public.” Suggested tools range from document sharing software, social media platforms, virtual town halls, and games. Yes, games.

Why games? A Ted Talk given by Jane McGonigal cites research that shows that when people are playing video games they are more likely to, “tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, and more optimism…and they are more likely to reach out to others for help.” With the wicked problems facing public administration today, more creativity, determination, and optimism could only help.

Sure, using video games seems like a nifty idea, but nobody is actually doing this, right? Wrong. In his article, Leighninger suggests www.persuasivegames.com, which has served both private and public clients. Some examples of game play include following the spread of a flu virus, or providing access to energy through the use of windmills. Other agencies have also released games, often for human resource purposes. The Peace Corps has a game to help the average citizen experience what life may be like as a volunteer and the National Security Agency’s CryptoChallenge is available through most mobile application stores, as well as a link to their human resource/career page.

Incorporating community engagement into video games might give insight into public perception, too. Imagine a video game built around budgeting that would allow officials to see what the public chooses to cut first. Then imagine that same game showing the public some consequences that could happen from making that budget cut. Herein lies the true brilliance of gaming for engagement, people are learning while having fun and providing feedback, which means they are more likely to do it again and again.

Developing video games is probably not the right fit for every type of community engagement project. Considering budget, time to develop, and creative and technical staff, the effort and resources needed to develop an effective game may be out of reach for some local governments and agencies, but the concept should not be dismissed.

“A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy.” –Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

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