PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: EVOKE

MMOWGLImania and some thoughts on purposive social media

The impending online playtest of MMOWGLI (the “Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet,” developed for the Office of Naval Research) continues to draw considerable media coverage. One of the most recent contributions is an article in yesterday’s Washington Post:

To combat Somali pirates, the U.S. Navy has relied on warships, snipers and SEAL teams. Now, it is turning to the heavy artillery: Internet gamers.

This month, the Office of Naval Research will roll out the military’s first-ever online war game open to the public, crowd-sourcing the challenges of maritime security to thousands of “players” sitting in front of their computers.

The project — named MMOWGLI (the acronym for Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet) — is a video game for policy wonks. It aims to replicate a traditional military strategy session on an exponentially larger scale, bringing together a diverse mix of government and outside experts that would be impossible even in the largest Pentagon conference room.

Through virtual simulation and social media tools made popular on Twitter and Facebook, players will work together to respond to a series of make-believe geopolitical scenarios set off when private ships are hijacked off Somalia’s coast.

“We live in an echo chamber,” Lawrence Schuette, the naval research office’s innovation chief, said of the military. “The challenge is you always want to have an audience that’s diverse in background, diverse in thinking. It’s those intersections where you see creativity occurring. The advantage of online crowd-sourcing is obvious: You have many more intersections and many more diverse backgrounds.”

Thanks in part to pre-launch publicity, more than 7,000 people have signed up for MMOWGLI, far beyond the 1,000 that developers had anticipated for the $450,000 pilot project. Programmers from the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit based in Palo Alto, Calif., that is making the software, have postponed the launch date to be sure the game has enough capacity.

There are, of course, the inevitable comparisons with the World Bank’s EVOKE online development education project. PAXsims gets a mention in the Washington Post article too, specifically in connection with the challenge of “crowd-sourcing” ideas in a way that encourages useful innovation rather than trendy (but potentially unrealistic) internet populism:

But as anyone who has spent time in an online chat room knows, moderating the debate against online bullies and sifting through thousands of comments to find quality ideas can be nearly impossible. During the EVOKE project, players coalesced around proposals that were unsustainable, such as floating greenhouses that would produce food 25 times too expensive to afford, said Rex Brynen, a professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal who blogs on strategic gaming.

“There was not enough quality control,” Brynen said of EVOKE. “Trendy development ideas that appeal to the 15- to 30-year-old age demographic catch on because they’re trendy, not because there is proof they would work.”

The quotes make me sound somewhat more negative than I am about the potential of crowd-sourcing, and certainly very more negative than I am about the remarkable innovative potential of the 15-30 demographic. Rather, my major point would be that a “build it and they will come” approach to purposive social media is a potentially self-defeating: one needs to think not only how one will hook in participants, but also how to best utilize their energy and ideas towards a clear goal. A key part of this, in turn, is thinking very strategically about the explicit and implicit reward structures and filters that might encourage high quality contributions in a way that empowers creativity but keeps it reasonably grounded in reality. In this regard, technology and flashy interfaces can be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In the case of EVOKE, while the approach has considerable potential, I did not feel that it had been executed as well as it might have been. (The World Bank Institute’s own evaluation, which you’ll find here and here, was understandably more positive. Also, have a look too at the game designers’ own reflections here.) Hopefully Season 2 of EVOKE will build on the successes of the project while addressing the weaknesses.

Since MMOWGLI has been developed to spur the development of innovative policy ideas, and since its first playtest addresses a form of hybrid warfare and emerging security threat (maritime piracy), there is another point of comparison that ought to be made, one that has yet to be raised in the media and tech commentary: Small Wars Journal. SWJ is an online community which integrates traditional online publication with a blog, discussion fora, and limited social networking tools. It does so, moreover, in a way that flattens hierarchies and encourages everyone to participate: corporals and colonels are listened to equally, and their contributions judged on the merits.

SWJ, however, does NOT have a particular trendy interface. It has no “gamification” to it at all—no built-in systems for gaining thumbs-ups, for winning avatars, or for earning status points. Despite this, the website has been widely recognized as having had substantial effect on thinking about insurgency, stabilization operations, and similar issues, within the US and around the world. SWJ even made it (together with Lady Gaga) onto Rolling Stone’s 2009 Hot List, despite having the rear end of a donkey as the focal-point of its logo.

I’m not aware that anyone who studies online communities and crowd-sourcing of policy ideas has yet looked systematically at what makes SWJ works (attention graduate students: thesis topic!). As a fairly frequent participant there, I think it has an awful lot to do with the quality of the moderation. Trolls are soon banned. Most of the participants are respectful, and the bounds of productive and unproductive dialogue are fairly well understood. Plus, of course, the “Small Wars Council” discussion forum at SWJ has Ken White. Really, what more do you need? Certainly there are weaknesses with SWJ. As they’ve expanded their publication (and received ever more contributions) they’ve had to work hard to maintain quality. Some discussions can get a bit repetitive (suppressive fire, anyone?). The participant community is not as diverse as it could be (more NGO folks, diplomats, and journalists would be useful, as would more contributors from outside NATO countries). Overall, however, it is hard to see SWJ as anything other than a success.

I think MMOWGLI is a really interesting experiment. They’ve clearly done some thinking, and I hope it works out well. In assessing its contribution, EVOKE—for all its technological parallels—is probably the wrong comparison, given its very different (educational) goals. Rather, the question that needs to be asked is how does MMOWGLI fare in generating ideas compared to a more conventional face-to-face workshop, such as the recent NATO experiment on countering hybrid threats? How does it fare compared to the more traditional online model of SWJ, or the various elements of the policy blogosphere more broadly? How do we measure this, especially given that “cost per clever idea” seems a very difficult metric to generate? And how can the project be used to further advance our understanding of leveraging the internet for purposes of policy discussion, debate, and innovation?

We’ll be following the MMOWGLI experiment with interest.

World Bank = gaming geeks?

One might be excused these days from thinking that the World Bank is becoming the Games Workshop or Electronic Arts of international financial institutions. They have the Carana simulation on fragile and conflict-affected countries (which my PaxSims co-conspirator Gary Milante moderates). They have the award-winning Evoke game that Jane McGonigal designed, intended to “encourage [African] students to engage in local communities and develop innovative solutions to local development challenges.” There is SimSIP, a “set of user-friendly simulation tools that make it easier to conduct policy-oriented empirical work on a wide range of social indicators and poverty.” The World Bank is also using a role-playing simulation to help build national capacities to address problems of money laundering and corruption (designed, in this case, by another good friend and gaming buddy Tommy Fisher —which helps to explain why we haven’t been able to play D&D, 40k, Labyrinth, or steampunk Victorian zombie adventures in weeks, since he’s off travelling the world).

Now the World Bank Institute has issues a request for proposals for two new (computer) games to address processes of political coalition-building (with an initial focus on the issue of procurement reform) and urban development:

Both products are intended to enhance existing multi-national training programs and activities that emphasize the key role of coalition building in leadership. These digital games would be added to traditional materials WBI is utilizing in its leadership workshops. Preference will be given to a vendor who has already developed similar game simulations and can re-purpose an existing technology and game structure to serve this project. Each game is conceived of as a single player strategy game. Relevant examples include Executive Command and Peacemaker. The interface is expected to be simple and accessible, with easy to use game mechanics, targeted at non-gamers.

If anyone is interested, they’ll find the full RFP here. The closing date is 28 February 2011.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:

You’ll notice that the World Bank’s RFP suggests that game designers “re-purpose an existing technology and game structure to serve this project.” Well, in that case, what better lesson could there be in the importance of coalition-building stakeholder consultation—or, more accurately, the costs of failing to do those things—than World of Warcraft’s legendary Leeroy Jenkins?

It’s all there. Shared interests. Teamwork. Coordination. Dragon eggs. Chicken. They just need to somehow integrate that part about “Procurement Reforms – from legislation (passing the law) to law implementation and acceptance.” How hard can that be?

Reflections on EVOKE

On May 19, the first iteration of EVOKE—the World Bank’s pioneering online social networking project/game on social entrepreneurship—came to an end. Some top players will receive online mentorhsips, seed money for projects, and a travel scholarships to an EVOKE summit in Washington DC. Others will get certificates for participating. A second run of the project is planned for 2011.

The Numbers…

According to the World Bank Institute:

By the time the EVOKE adventure ended on May 19, 19,324 people from 150 countries registered to play. Players had submitted over 23,500 blog posts (about 335 each day), 4,700 photos and over 1,500 videos highlighting challenges and solutions to the development issues featured each week.

You’ll also find some positive reporting of the data on InfoDev. While I haven’t yet seen how those numbers broke down, earlier statistics posted on the EVOKE website on March 20 give some idea of who was participating:

  • Total number of Agents (as of March 20): 11,474
    • by gender:
      • 2990 women (26.1%)
      • 8484 men (73.9%)
    • by location
      • United States: 5656 (49.3%)
      • Canada: 944 (8.2%)
      • South Africa: 871 (7.6%)
      • United Kingdom: 436 (3.8%)
      • Other: 3567 (31.2%)

While the totals were much almost twice as high by the time the project ended it May, presumably the gender and location distributions would have been roughly similar.

What do those numbers mean? Since EVOKE was especially aimed at African youth, critics are sure to point to the fact that the vast majority of participants were in the US, UK, Canada, and likely elsewhere in the OECD countries.

I’m not sure this is a terribly useful criticism. It was clear from the start that any web-based English-language educational initiative would suffer from this bias, given the financial, technical, and linguistic barriers to internet access in Africa. The real issue is how many non-Western participants were engaged at what cost per capita, and since I haven’t seen a detailed budget for the project I’m not really in a position to comment on its cost effectiveness. However, if the project did engage significant numbers in the developing world at a reasonable cost, the participation of those outside the primary target group isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Presumably, it represents a contribution to both development education and cross-cultural dialogue, as well as contributing substantive content in terms of EVOKE blog-posts.

The reported number of blog posts per agent suggests that many participants took a tour of EVOKE but soon found their interest waning. The Edutech report suggests that 10-20% of participants could be categorized as “active,” which seems about right to me, and not at all bad for a project of this sort. According to the EVOKE Class of 2010 “graduation” data available via Googledocs, some 4,733 Agents graduated (by completing at least one of the various missions, objectives, and quests), with an average of 3.2 missions, 3.9 objectives, and 2.5 quests per agent by my calculation.

Personally, I think that EVOKE’s sometimes rather awkward interface was a barrier to fuller participation. It was one of the less intuitive and effective social networking or online discussion forums that I’ve used.

Content

Finally, what of the content? Number crunching, site statistics, and cost-effectiveness data really doesn’t tell you what participants may—or may not—have learned from the process.

Here, I’ll admit, my initial concerns were largely sustained throughout the project. EVOKE itself consisted of several main content components:

  • The central comic-style storyboard, which told the tale of the shadowy EVOKE group that worked to alleviated global development problems in 2020 through innovative action and social entrepreneurship.
  • Initial links to outside materials.
  • The blog entries, pictures, videos, comments, and links contributed after the launch by the EVOKE mentors.
  • The “evidence,” blog entries, pictures, videos, comments, and links contributed by ordinary participants.

The storyline itself, which was intended as the spark for each week’s discussions among agents, was usually rather weak.

  • Episodes 1-2 saw a famine in Japan, due—apparently—to food shortages. The famine, however, seemed confined to Japan, which suggests that either 1) global trade had collapsed (otherwise, why not import food?), or 2) Japan had suffered a severe economic crisis which had drastically reduced household purchasing power. There was no discussion of this, however. Instead, the heroes of the story, dispatched from the secret EVOKE HQ in Senegal, were sent to Japan to construct rooftop gardens and floating greenhouses in Tokyo Harbour. Problem solved! From a development economics point-of-view, it made no sense at all, and there were few helpful links to expert websites on food security issues. Since I’m a teacher, I would have to assign it a failing grade: F.
  • Episode 3 concerned brownouts and electrical shortages in Rio de Janiero. The EVOKE heroes promoted power-generating windmills, solar balloons, and even a piezoelectric disco dance-floor as the solution. There was no discussion of the major issues in the energy sector (most of which aren’t resolvable through small scale social entrepreneurship). The only saving grace of the episode was the failure of one local community to take up the windmill initiative, which nicely highlighted the need for community and individual buy-in to development projects. Grade: C.
  • Episode 4 dealt with a future London where heavy rain had overloaded the sanitation system, resulting in severe clean water shortages. Cholera in Southwark! How could the EVOKE team warn the public where and how to get safe water? Those of you who might have said “public service announcements in the media” are apparently under the misapprehension that the Britons of 2020 still spend hours watch Big Brother, Dr. Who, or football on the telly. Instead, giant organic LED displays are required used to display images on buildings (presumably capitalizing on that quaint English custom of standing outside during torrential downpours staring at, well, the sides of office buildings). Yes, good development practice suggests that you do something complicated, expensive, and untested instead of something easy, cheap, and proven. Grade: F
  • Episode 5 saw the collapse of the post-communist banking system in Cuba, apparently spurred by  the crash of the US dollar. The answer: print an alternative local currency (apparently backed by nothing) on old printing presses! Call it the Somalia solution.  There’s also a lot of discussion in the episode of community banking and microinvestment, but not really enough for the average EVOKE reader to make much sense of. Grade: D

  • Episode 6 addressed empowering women through the story of a woman activist kidnapped by retrograde jihadists who opposed female participation in the public sphere. Fortunately, one hacker is able to identify her location and enable a military rescue (how very Special Forces of the World Bank!), while others promote a venture capital fund to assist female entrepreneurs. Sadly, gender empowerment is a little more complicated than that. Grade: C+
  • Episode 7 concerned a fire in the future Los Angeles that leaves 300,000 homeless. The team uses the Ushahidi crowdsourcing technologies to facilitate emergency communications, and helps resolve the immediate emergency housing situation with hexayurts. The lesson here is urban resilience and the remarkable capabilities of disaster-affected populations, two very important things that media coverage of disasters often obscures with its focus on external aid. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that theme was very effectively communicated. Grade: C+
  • Episode 8 highlighted the value of indigenous knowledge—again, another important development lesson. The EVOKE team discouraged slash-and-burn agriculture in favour of more sustainable agricultural practices, as well as promoting ecotourism (to reduce poaching) and highlighted the value of indigenous botanical medicines (again, all useful things). What was lost, perhaps, was the need to embed this within broader context. After all, you need transportation infrastructure and marketing expertise to expand the agricultural sector, and tourist infrastructure to support ecotourism. While perhaps I’m adding too many layers, it is precisely this sort of interplay of complexity that make development work interesting. They are certainly things that social entrepreneurs need to take into account. Grade: B-
  • Episode 9 sees an outbreak of River Flu in China. The EVOKE team helps network researchers and clinicians, and microfranchise pharmacies and clinics. With the public bombarded with inaccurate rumours that that threaten to create mass panic, they also help to broadcast more useful information via (very sensibly) TV and SMS. Grade: B+ for the SMS usage, but D for the franchise clinics and pharmacies—as a longer term initiative perhaps, but as a rapid response to an epidemic and public panic? Hardly. Plus this is China, with a massive public sector to be mobilized for localized emergencies.

Running against the backdrop of all these adventures are the activities of Citizen X, a hacker who seems to want to publicize the EVOKE team’s secrets at any costs. At the very end, a shadowy figure called Alpha appears, and threatens to destroy EVOKE. Perhaps they’re both anti-globalization protesters. Or one might be Paul Wolfowitz, bent on revenge.

The Discussion

Despite a suboptimal user interface, EVOKE did generate some 23,500 blog posts—a not inconsiderable number of reflections, dialogues, and ideas on development and social entrepreneurship. Moreover, the dialogue (or, more accurately, the “multilogue”) went beyond this in many cases, to the formation of friendships, collaboration, third-party wikis and websites, and enduring off-site contacts and networking. Much of this was undoubtedly a very positive thing. (Those interesting in the impact of all this would do well to have a look through the discussion at http://evoke.mapofemergence.com, a website intended to “leave a trace of EVOKE’s social experiments, fails and wins,” as well as EVOKE Forever)

Some of the blog postings on EVOKE were outstanding: thoughtful, original, contemplative, and thought-provoking. Many were good best efforts, as participants sought to engage the subject matter. Still others were innocently inaccurate, misleading, or distracting. A few had particular viewpoints that they wished to evangelize. The peer review process built into the system provided some degree of quality-check, in that Agents could “vote” approval of ideas posted by others. However, such net populism doesn’t always assure that what receives approval is all that sensible or grounded in international development experience. (Had it been, there would have been an EVOKE revolt at the silly storylines featured each week.) There were also mentors who posted ideas, or who might comment on the ideas and issues raised by others. However they were too few to guide or facilitate many of the discussions.

Any experienced teacher knows that classroom discussion is a good thing. However, they also know that if you leave a class to discuss issues without any support, they’re at significant risk of accepting trendy stereotypes or allowing inaccuracies to go unchallenged. Sadly, I saw a fair share of this in EVOKE discussions. I’m not suggesting here that EVOKE ought to promote a particular set of “truths.” I am suggesting that far more effort needs to be put into how the initiative can encourage participants to develop a critical yet well-grounded understanding of development issues.

Final Thoughts

There has been some significant discussion of EVOKE in the blogosphere.  Unfortunately, much of this has been filtered through ideological lenses: since the World Bank is behind the project, it must be a cunning PR ruse to brainwash the masses into blind acceptance of structural adjustment, privatization, and the Washington consensus. This sort of criticism is certainly evident in the satirical INVOKE site that was set up as a parody to EVOKE (see typical panel below—it’s witty, biting stuff, and often better written than the real website). Similarly, the content of EVOKE has also been criticized for promoting a sort of philanthrocapitalism that fails to challenge market systems.

I’ll leave those sorts of debates for those who prefer to see the complex challenges of development in starkly black and white terms. However, even within the context of the development community mainstream I think that EVOKE’s basic storyline is, for the most part, dysfunctional. In promoting social entrepreneurship—a worthy goal—it usually fails to highlight the real-life challenges of bring ideas to fruition and having a positive impact. Many of the sorts of fixes that the EVOKE team adopt are typically simplistic, gimicky, unsustainable, and divorced (and devoid) of broader social, economic, political, and cultural context.

It could be argued, of course, that things needed to be simplified for the target youth audience. While this is true, I’m not sure that complexity can’t be made interesting and engaging. Certainly readers can be encouraged to ask questions, consult stakeholders, and pretest ideas.

It could also be argued that the EVOKE story was simply a mechanism designed to encourage initial discussion and later activism—a prod to social networking and action, rather than educational content in itself. This, I think, is a much more substantive response to my concerns. After all, the website is built around the idea of participation and discussion. It also repeatedly emphasizes the “ten powers” needed to change the world—collaboration, courage, creativity, entrepreneurship, local insight, knowledge sharing, resourcefulness, spark, sustainability, and vision—all of which are obviously good things.

However, I think they’ve underestimated the extent to which students can absorb the wrong lessons, and overestimated the ability of many participants to separate the valuable lessons from the more misleading blog posts and comments. It also doesn’t answer the question why the World Bank—with more possibly more smart, experienced technical and aid professionals than any other development institution on the planet—couldn’t have come up with content that more accurately describes what real-world development looks like.

Marshall McLuhan famously said that the “medium is the message,” suggesting that form is more determinative of social impact than is content. In some ways, this idea seems deeply embeded into the design philosophy and visual imagery of EVOKE, which very much puts emphasis on edgy style and social networking and pays rather less attention to providing a supportive knowledge base.

However, McLuhan was at best only half right. The message is the message too, and on this critical dimension the first iteration of EVOKE fell short. Perhaps a second version will address some of these shortcomings. After all, good social entrepreneurship honestly assesses its impact and shortcomings, and tries again.

* * *

Rex – having had nothing to do with Evoke, yet working at the Bank, I have to say I think this is a fair assessment – Evoke was awful flashy and the teaching seemed undirected at best (an afterthought or nonexistent at worst).  I had signed up as a Mentor, but my instructions were to click on people’s walls and tell them what was good – it could’ve used a lot more direction and much clearer objectives.  In my opinion, simulations are best when they are designed with clear teaching objections and then the participants are tricked into learning, often without realizing it until after the fact.  I hope evaluations like this are heard by the designers as constructive criticism and are useful in their next attempts, because successful learning in environments like these would be a great step forward for development practitioners and those interested in these topics. – Gary

EVOKE update

A few more discussions from about the net on the World Bank’s EVOKE project, and the broader use of serious social networking games:

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

As of the afternoon of March 16, over 9,800 participants from over 130 countries have registered to play.  This figure is almost double what we had projected for the entire 10 weeks of the game.  Just under 20% of total visitors to the site (50,457 unique visitors) have registered to play….

Urgent Evoke is shaping up to be the most popular game of its type by far, which is a testament to its message and marketing power. At the rate it’s growing, it could have up to tens of thousands of players by the time it’s finished. A big reason why Evoke is popular is because of its simple and attractive Obama-like promise: “You can become a superhero. You can change the world.”

  • Invoke—The Game A discussion of both EVOKE and its INVOKE parody, at the Persuasive Games blog.

The World Bank EVOKEs the power of social network gaming

The World Bank is also getting into the use of online games to engage youth (especially in Africa) with EVOKE, a newly-launched social networking game.

This isn’t entirely a game in the usual sense, although it has objectives and puzzles and rewards. Rather, it seems to be using those mechanisms to get young people engaged in a sort of online conversation, to exchange views and ideas, and to interact with more experienced “mentors.” The website integrates blog posts, videos, background materials and a graphic novel style story-telling.

World Bank Institute Launches Online Game EVOKE, a Crash Course in Changing the World

Winners to earn mentorships and scholarships

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2010 – The World Bank Institute has launched an online multiplayer game, EVOKE, designed to empower young people all over the world, but especially in Africa, to start solving urgent social problems like hunger, poverty, disease, conflict, climate change, sustainable energy, lack of health care and education.
Over 4,000 participants from more than 120 countries and territories pre-registered to start playing on March 3. They will be challenged to complete a series of ten missions and ten quests — one per week, over the course of the ten-week game.
“EVOKE helps players learn 21st century skills to become the social innovators who shape the future,”said Robert Hawkins, a Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank Institute, and Executive Producer for the game. “Top players will also earn real-world honors and rewards, namely mentorships with experienced social innovators and business leaders, and scholarships to share their vision for the future at an EVOKE Summit to be held in Washington DC.”


Players who successfully complete ten online missions in ten weeks will also be able to receive a special distinction: World Bank Institute Social Innovator – Class of 2010.
The project began as a response to African universities’ desire to engage students in real world problems and to develop capacities for creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial action that will be the engine for job creation now and in the future.
“An evoke is an urgent call to innovation,” says the game’s creative director, Jane McGonigal. “When we evoke, we look for creative solutions and learn how to tackle the world’s toughest problems with creativity, courage, resourcefulness and collaboration.”


Set in the year 2020, the game’s story follows the efforts of a mysterious network of Africa’s best problem-solvers. Each week, as players unravel the mystery of the Evoke network, they will form their own innovation networks: brainstorming creative solutions to real-world development challenges, learning more about what it takes to be a successful social innovator, and finding ways to make a difference in the world.
“In the world of the EVOKE graphic novel, the people most prepared for the problems of the future are the ones who are grappling with them today,” says EVOKE story director Kiyash Monsef. “And that’s exactly what our players are doing by participating in this game. They’re preparing for the future.”


###

For more information, please visit www.urgentevoke.com
Watch the game trailer at: http://vimeo.com/9094186

KEY FACTS ABOUT EVOKE:

  • The game is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere.
  • The game begins on March 3, 2010 and runs for 10 weeks.
  • Developed by the World Bank Institute, the learning arm of the World Bank (http://wbi.worldbank.org/wbi/), and sponsored by InfoDev (www.infodev.org) and Korean Trust Fund on ICT4D which funds cutting edge projects supporting ICT and sustainable development.
  • Directed by Jane McGonigal, award-winning alternate reality game director (www.avantgame.com)
  • Developed by Natron Baxter Applied Gaming (http://natronbaxter.com/)
  • Art for the graphic novel is by Jacob Glaser (http://www.jacobglaser.com/index.html).

While it is certainly innovative, on a quick few minutes of play-through I found it all rather complicated, lacking in either engaging competition in a game sense, or a fluid and obvious social networking interface. Of course, I’m not the target audience, and perhaps it works better when combined with some offline instructional support. Then again, I’m not exactly a social networking neophyte or RPG newbie either. As for the message on innovation and social development, I’m not sure that jazzing it up in clothing of secret future superheroes fighting global problems informs more than it distorts and confuses. As for Japan facing a famine in 2020? It is certainly a nice role-reversal on the Africa-in-peril theme, but it all seemed a bit of a stretch.

It will be interesting to see what the reaction to this one will be.

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