Last weekend, I had the honor of being on a plenary panel at MIT8 talking about publics and
It is increasingly clear to me that what we might call civic actions are quite varied and many of them are not uniquely definable as “work” or “tedium.” Civic actions are playful, and they involve experimentation and exploration more than the rote completion of pre-defined tasks.
In fact, play is a valuable conceptual framework through which to understand civic actions.
- self-chosen and self-directed (players can choose to quit);
- an activity in which means are more valuable than ends;
- guided by rules
- imaginative and somehow separated from everyday life
Now consider this definition of play in three broad and often interconnected frames that facilitate civic actions: art making, story and games.
The Laundromat Project involves dozens of sites around New York City where communities create and play together. Art Making includes the individual or collective production of an object (digital or material) that references or connects to an issue context, community or public institution. The Laundromat Project, as an example, is facilitated community art in laundromats throughout Greater New York City. The organization engages people in making things where they are and facilitates connections between local communities that would not exist otherwise. Making art, in this case, is a playful act that strengthens local ties and community bonds. The final product is not as important as engaging people in a process of making that is open-ended and playful. Stories can be a playful way for communities or individuals to represent themselves.
Communities are often grounded by stories – and people connect to their communities by inserting their personal narrative trajectory into them. Activists are mythologized to mobilize personal narratives, aspects of city histories are evoked, and sometimes external narratives are placed on top of a local narrative to motivate particular actions. The Harry Potter Alliance uses a movie narrative to inspire youth to take real actions in the world. Hundreds of thousands of youth from all over the world have been motivated to take action on issues such as getting Warner Bros to invest in free trade chocolate for its products. Harry Potter is the framework, and the Alliance simply provides permission for people to play within the narrative to connect to
Jane McGonigal’s Urgent Evoke framed the process of engagement and connected thousands of players from around the world Games are not the same thing as play. Games operationalize play – when well designed, they provide a meaningful frame from which to act. I am interested in the small but growing number of games that frame civic actions. My lab’s game Community PlanIt, for example, is designed to provide a playful context for urban planning. The game has demonstrated the ability to bring youth and adults together in common play experiences, which instead of devaluing the end product, actually serves to legitimize actions from the perspective of players.
Other games, such as Jane McGonigal’s Evoke frame individual actions within larger campaigns and allow players to craft