game design, ARGs, social capital and social footprints

The concept of social footprint (as defined in Story Games) is the amount of time and effort you put into something to achieve enjoyment. While the discussion goes into the time spent around set up times, the appeal of games and whether what you get out of them is worth what you put in, whether that’s fun, emotional validation and catharsis or gaining a greater insight into the people you play with.

There is of course an alternative definition, that of how much input is needed to make a sustainable or socially-responsible action take place. Social capital lets individuals and groups take effective action via social networks and shared knowledge. They can be contributions to other programs or institutions that provide resources and services available to individuals or groups. So if you click on a link it contributes to a charity.

The Literacy Site

Another example would be a shared wiki, where people who have access can add their own knowledge which may benefit participants in turn.

“All well and good but what has this to do with stories, games or even alternate reality games?”

A fair question – look at how alternate reality games discuss issues like conflicts around oil (like Exeo Inc for THQ’s Frontlines: Fuel of War) and future designs like Superstruct, where ideas are sought from participants on the design of the future. Are the ideas generated being acted on in some manner or being examined outside of the context of the games in question? It may sound fantastic, inspiration can come from some very strange sources and player demographics reveal a surprisingly varied range of disciplines and professions.

Would it be cool to combine the game definition with the social responsibility and benefits definition? Apart from giving a percentage of profits to charity, also providing a shared pool of knowledge and benefits as well as the social capital of positive experiences and additional ‘insider’ benefits. Over time, these benefits may feed out to the public domain so that the game or story attracts audience by virtue of the information that’s held within the public domain or even within the shared area.

Building this kind of thing into design precepts may not be the easiest experience though it would certainly be rewarding. And if you’re going to offer an in-game experience, it is good to make the experience a positive one. Questions of legality, intellectual property rights, morality and ethics may raise their head depending on what kind of game or story you’re trying to tell as participants may seek to leverage things to their advantage.

This is a big challenge. Who’s up for it?


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