The Foundation, The Hunt, and The Cash - Can a well financed Role Playing approach improve involvement in important causes?
Recently there was a post to Transhumanity.net by a group that refers to itself as 'the foundation'. The post, (linked here: http://transhumanity.net/catch-foundation-agents-at-ces-2018-and-win-5000-00-usd/ ) suggests a game to be played at a conference taking place from the 9th to the 12th of January 2018. There will apparently be two 'operatives' of the group moving around the technology conference and the first to identify them and take specific related actions will win a prize of 5,000 dollars in cash and two days the 'Transhuman House' which is a demonstration space for Transhumanist ideas and technologies and is also rented as an Air BnB host site. Other prizes are offered for first and second place as well as a smaller bounty of 100 dollars for the top ten posts discussing this matter (which - full disclosure - this post will be an entry in).
So offering money and stays in swanky hotels is nothing new and has been used for a myriad of purposes. Indeed this is small potatoes for prize fare compared with many a game out there so what is it about this that makes it especially interesting? What makes this a bit different is that it is more than one might expect for a game that isn't seeking to make money, at least directly, for a company. The idea here seems to be to build visibility and networking for an ARG or Alternate Reality Game. Alternate Reality has been a buzzword of late and is popular in a number of areas though most people will think of immersive headsets and similar technology. This usage however, is effectively a subset of Role Playing and exists within multiple environments including in-person real world interaction. That is the form this particular part of the ARG seems to be taking trying to get more networking and engagement out of the wider audience at this conference by giving them incentive to meet and interact with members of the Foundation. This presumably helps to build toward the Foundations goal of building and maintaining knowledge around futurist models. It's recent connections with Zero State - a group referring to its goal as implementing 'social futurism' - suggests some common interests there although not much information on the level and type of alignment is publicly available.
With that as a goal then what is the value and will it work? Can a better world be built or useful work get done by playing games pretending to be agents in a fictional future? It certainly seems like it could. Simulations of all kinds from pilot flight simulators to firefighting scenarios are played out frequently as important training for professionals. They are often not nearly so shrouded in mystery or deep in science fiction however. Role Playing Games of all stripes are quite popular but while DnD has been shown to improve social skills and group cohesion it hasn't generally been considered as a learning environment for building companies, new technologies, or fomenting social change. Perhaps the best extant examples are LARPs or Live Action Role Play. These tend to be larger scale than their tabletop cousins and deep social connections are often built around them to the point where players come to form meaningful bonds with each other beyond the game. Social groups like this are also seen to frequently choose to engage in charity work of various kinds such as the Amtgard (A fantasy LARP) food fight which as the name suggests is a food bank charity. While not highly successful compared against other sources of money and goods collected annually it is impressive to watch the mobilization of so many people in the effort and their creative methods of improving its outcome.
The competitive element of the contest here is also something to consider. After all there is only one winner at the CES conference which according to its website ( https://www.ces.tech/ ) had more than 184,000 attendees last year. This means there is both positive and negative in running this as a competition. One the one hand there is incentive for people to work quickly to spot the two agents and communicate their having done so. On the other hand with so many competitors in such a large space they may simply think the odds or reward to small for the effort. On the whole though friendly limited competition typically leads to positive results. It is likely this will, if nothing else, provide a background to get people excited about something new to try during the event and get word out a bit further about the Foundation and its goals.
Getting people wrapped up into the game could well provide a chance to inform, educate, and inspire though there are interesting ways to slip useful work in as well as many in the 'gamification' community suggest. This may be an untapped vein in the LARP realm and one that we will get to watch as the Foundation makes a move in that direction. It may be that their biggest issue here is not the use of the ARG, the value of the prize or even their own cryptic nature but rather that it isn't yet going deep enough or far enough. 'Find the two people with badges' as any gamer knows, is an old and tired trope of a quest and needs something more to keep it fresh. This is essentially Where's Waldo for the tech con crowd. It might behoove them to seek ways to bring people in more deeply and engage in fully fleshed story which would create opportunities to build the brand around and bring people back for more.
Whatever the outcome of this little experiment it will be fun to watch and we can expect more posts on the matter from the Foundation. The outcome for better or worse may be viewed as an early test of the concept outside of gamer communities and serve as an exemplar to be copied or avoided.