Gamification of Protest

Yesterday I intended to follow up my first post on ‘march dynamics’ with a second on the ‘gamification of protest’. I ended up reading the whole of the fantastic Endres and Senda-Cook (2011) paper, posting a short comment on it, and failing to even consider my second theme of protest and play! Anyway I shall say a few words now.

Following on from Wednesday’s somewhat bodged NUS march, Samuel Carlisle of the protest application Sukey posted a few interesting discussions over on his soundcloud page, here. The first of interest was entitled ‘Gamifying Volunteer Participation’ where Sam talks of auto-assigning roles to online volunteers. This basically means that anyone who’s willing to help out but isn’t at the live demo, can assist in completing lots of little tasks (meta-tagging photos, adding users to the ‘whitelist’, finding trolls to add to the blacklist, mapping facilities etc.) in a service called freenode, an open-source network that helps Sukey distribute these kinds of jobs to eager volunteers. Now, the only problem Sam found with this distributed tasking is that people aren’t always proactive in getting started on a job, whilst nonetheless wanting to help in some way because they feel like they have a particular skill, or specific experience of doing a certain job. So, says Sam, how do you get these people involved? This is where the gamification element comes in, because if people get rewarded for their work they tend to want to continue doing that work, so with the assigning of particular roles (‘tagger’, ‘whitelister’, blacklister’, ‘mapper’ etc.) each group have clearly defined divisions (tag division, whitelist division etc.). This ‘gamification’ dynamic can help in engaging far more people in the application’s workflow, and ultimately, in increasing the efficacy of the Sukey project.

The second clip; ‘Dynamic Random Role Assignment’ discussed bringing this kind of gamified interaction out onto the ground, so that protesters during a demo could, perhaps, be given a specific task to do based on their geographical location. So they mention what Sam calls ‘pseudo-leadership’, although I really want to call it ‘fleadership’ (fleeting-leadership!), where protesters are given a specific, momentary command (‘start chant’, ‘speed up crowd’, ‘direct to X’ etc.). It’s a kind of distributed leadership role that allows protesters to sink back into anonymity once their job is complete (back into ‘civilian mode’ as Sam points out); only to pick it up again should they be called into action. Moreover it allows people who maybe don’t even know each other to coalesce around a set of shared objectives (i.e. on the Sukey platform). Of course, this is presuming the crowd’s a) big enough and b) willing enough to recycle roles. But they’re interesting tactical points nonetheless.

The final discussion, ‘The Art of Gamification for Protest’ follows on from the nascent gamification concepts Sam talks about in clip 1 and 2. It tries to make sense of these gamified elements and suggests splitting online roles into predefined temporal tasks, so that those with a particularly long block of continuous time (a weekend) can do a specific job, whereas those with interstitial but consistent blocks (weeknights, lunch breaks) are assigned others. In other words: “little missions that fit their schedules”. The importance though still lies on it being a ‘fun’ and playful practice, so its about giving users/protesters the choice to engage in certain tasks in order to then reward their involvement (and it not be conceived as a job in the purely work-as-forced-to sense). A way of heightening participation and increasing involvement, enjoyment and togetherness leading up to, and during a protest.

Also: The picture above is taken from Sukey’s Survival Guide for protesters, which is on flickr here and on the Sukey website, here. If you click the image you can also download it as a PDF directly.