The Chicago Project

As with most days of the week, I have a crazy idea.

This one has been slowly growing in momentum. It isn’t fully fleshed out, but it does have some research behind it.

The idea’s history can be traced back to almost a year ago to during Desert Bus for Hope 3. At some point during this highly addictive to watch marathon gaming session telethon fundraiser, the organizers pointed out that a gaming podcast had interviewed them about their endeavor. The interview is the first 13 minutes. The podcast, “A Life Well Wasted”, is fantastic in the way it covers the stories of creators, users and games as an art form. Desert Bus happen be starting a fourth go at the fundraiser for Child’s Play on November 19th, and if past years are anything to go off of, should finish around six to seven days later! Last year they raised over $140,000 alone. Make sure to check them out.

Now that wasn’t the particular podcast episode that was the inspiration. The next episode, “Episode six – Big Ideas”(NSFW), is where this kicks off. Now as a note, the part that inspires me is safe to listen to, (24:35-40:00) but the latter part is “Not Safe for Work“. I cannot recommend listening to the Big Games part of the podcast enough. It is the single link you must follow from this article.

In summary, a group put on a city wide game, called The Big Urban Game, where everyone could participate by looking in the newspaper that day and sending in their choice. The game was three giant 25 foot high inflatable game pieces that raced about the city. The choice the public got input on was the route each of the pieces would make, which they could find in the newspaper. This creates a new way of thinking about your city since one would have to think out possible routes in light of hills, low overhangs, traffic and other potential obstacles.

This further developed into “The Big Games Manifesto” which tosses out the old paradigm of games in computers, for games with computers in them. Now Scouting has been doing mass real world games for years. Wide games. The interviewee spoke about how it would be interesting to even develop the idea of games for 200 people.

So this is what I want to do. A real life, city wide game. But with a purpose. That’s the Scouting way.

Fun with Purpose

So while this idea has been percolating in my brain for the past five months, I’ve come across more articles and videos that either back up this idea or have given me more clues to the final product. I realize this is quite the dump (who do you think wrote the article, by hand?), but you can safely skip to “The Challenge” section below. Having said that, you’ll be missing all the fun.

  • The fundamentals of Game Design explains how all games are actually a series of mini-games, and one must carefully craft those mini-games in order to make a successful game. It then goes on to cover what the elements of a mini-game are and how to build them.
  • In Gaming can make a better world , Jane McGonigal explains what the billions of hours spent on video games are creating. If it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at something, and many people have obtained that in video games, what are they masters in?
    • Urgent Optimism: The desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with a reasonable hope of success.
    • Social Fabric: We like people better after playing a game with someone, even if beaten badly. Science chalks this up to the level of trust required to play by mutual rules, and sharing of similar values to do so
    • Blissful Productivity: We as humans are optimized to do hard meaningful work over sitting on a couch. (Just ask any Scout leader)
    • Epic Meaning: The second largest wiki online is the World of Warcraft Wiki. Gamers want to attach themselves to awe inspiring missions. They are building an epic story
    • So what do these things make? Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals. They believe as individuals they can change the world, but in online worlds. Hmm, can we find a way to capture this?

  • The online Urgent Evoke game was one of the three games showcased in the above video. Peek around to see what’s possible.
  • Tom Chatfield talks about 7 ways games reward the brain explores how games have found compelling ways to keep us engaged. He explains techniques that are currently used, many of which we should be mindful of for this project.
  • Now this Big Game is bound to start through guerrilla marketing. How to make a splash in social media [Video 4:27] from Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, explores meme creation, and the lesson of losing control. Word of Mouse explores 10 ways to master nonprofit guerrilla marketing through social media. If we want to maximize our results, very important lessons to learn.
  • Since we are designing a Big Game to motivate people into action, the more we understand how to motivate people, the better. Perhaps Dan Pink can show what science can provide us . Since this Big Game will definitely involve some cognitive thinking, the old approach of carrot and sticks won’t work. Giving people a purpose, autonomy and getting them to work on something they are masters in, will give us the best results. Hmmm
  • Design Outside the Box by Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jesse Schell humourously delves into the addictive psychological tricks employed in casual games. He then moves onto explore a world where we receive points for everyday actions (the technology in the game over the game in technology as explored above) which would slowly change our behaviours as those certain actions are rewarded. Lots of wonderful game elements to learn from this. Now unfortunately I haven’t actually finished this video because of my internet connection (don’t ask), but it’s only the last 5 minutes or so I’m missing. Which of course are where all the conclusions are. Sigh.
  • So all of these elements are great, but won’t work unless we have a purpose. Natalie Jeremijenko and The art of the eco-mindshift explores some wonderful examples of small causes and quirky, fun ways to solve them. From planting mini gardens in the streets in front of fire hydrants (not in use normally, and oh boo woo a firetruck ran over a plant) to a grid of buoys that light up when fish swim below and the colour of the signal signifies the oxygen levels in the water, we can create works of art that change and inform our behaviours.
  • Lastly, I have found Clay Shirky’s talk on institutions vs. collaboration quite helpful. He makes the case that institutions, basically any type of formal organization, is missing out on vast sums of potential, by it’s very nature of being an institution. If we wish to unlock as much potential as possible, we have to go down the path of more loose ties. One size does not fit all, and the same goes with volunteering.

Fewffh. I realize that’s a lot to swallow, even with out clicking any links. So I’m going to summarize.

The Challenge

I wish to build a Big Game, where by the public will be inspired by a purpose, and incentivized by the game mechanics to continue working on something of meaning, all while having a fun time. This will showcase, and increase society’s value of Scouting, creating buzz. I plan on using modern technology to create a game inside reality. There are already successful case studies such as Four Square, Geo Caching, and ARG’s.

The next step from here is choosing a purpose. Scouting has to take a stand on an issue. That shows leadership, something we claim to teach. Something that aligns with the principles of Scouting, and that will capture the imagination of the public. Something I’ve come to realize is that whatever we choose, it can’t be completely selfish. An example for that would be more money / support for non-school based childhood education. Not going to fly.

A better answer might be the reduction in paper usage and planting of more trees. We already do that with Scout Trees, and I’ve even heard from companies that join local Scouts to assist them on that day to plant trees.
Other examples include

As you can see, there are quite a few green based answers, but by no stretch of the mind are the only types of answers. They are quite in vogue these days, and are scalable from small actions to larger ones.

As food for thought, the three position statements of Scouts Canada are Leadership, Environmental Stewardship, and Healthy Active Living.

Oh the things you’ll see

Now how cool would it be if we set up a game that hands out points for different actions, and you attained levels as those points increased. Then when you get to your first level, you receive a badge in the mail! Not a bill, or a piece of junk advertising, just an envelope with a badge, and a simple thank you letter for attaining level one. Most people would be besides themselves in awe.

Now these points can also be given out in combos. You have your team of six people (hmm, patrol sized…) all check in your behaviour at the same time? Congrats, you all get five times as many points! Then the next week you all attend an official event? Ten times the points! The trick here is encouraging verifiable actions. One person could check in fake actions. So could six, but less likely. If we punch it in for them, all the better for both sides.


As if all those videos and sites aren’t enough, I have plans on a few books to read. The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses, Space Time Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level (which has a whole section on the Big Game that was described in the original podcast), Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, and Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits are all on my to buy and read list. (Hint hint)

If during your travels across the internet that might help or be related to this idea, do let me know and pass it on to me. Good ideas come from merging other ideas together.

Bring it all together

So great. I have an idea. Ideas are free. Do you know why? There are so many of them. Infinite. Supply and demand dictates that anything with a supply of infinity will be rather cheap.

It isn’t even a complete idea. So half of free is…. well still free.

I need you to help me.

I need your input.
Your ideas for game elements, new or ones you’ve seen before.
Your ideas for the purpose. What will society change?
Your ideas for how this will start. The hardest part will be reaching the tipping point. If no one joins in, no one else will. The reverse can be overwhelmingly true.

It doesn’t have to be a giant city wide game where 25 foot high game pieces move around based on the collective will of its citizens. It could grow to be that big, but it will never start there.

If you can only do one thing, it’s listen to the podcast. (24:35-40:00)

I’m going to keep giving this idea some serious thought. I know the required inputs are high. Massive levels of planning, thinking and testing. Potentially recruiting ridiculous sums of people to work behind the scenes. An infinite number of ways this could get derailed or go sideways. Compare that to the possible outcomes. The Epic Win, if you will.

Call me crazy if you’d like.

I just think Scouting needs to Walk the Walk, and prove it’s worth.

With that, I’m going to leave you with one last video[3:10].

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