Can activism be a game?


Last month, I had the chance to go down to San Francisco and attend GSummit, a conference on gamification. Gamification has become a little bit of an obsession lately so I was looking forward to the conference and it turned out to be better than I expected.

So what’s gamification? It’s the idea of learning the principles of why we enjoy games and then shifting those same lessons onto other contexts. Usually gamification is used to encourage people to do things that they know they should do that they can’t motivate themselves to do.

A nice clear example is fitness apps. Everyone knows they should work out but most people have to drag themselves to the gym. Let’s look at running apps. At one extreme you have simple apps like Fitocracy, which awards you points for working out and lets you compete with friends. On the other extreme you have apps like Zombies, Run!, which has you listen to a story as you run; every once in a while, zombies will attack and you have to run as fast as you can. Once the danger has passed, you can return to jogging. (Some of you may recognize that this is actually interval training.)

Gamification doesn’t have to be as game-like as all that though (sounds weird I know). At my job we have a lot of complicated legal processes that we try and walk people through. We do a lot to “dumb it down” so that you don’t need a law degree to figure it out but, well, the law is inaccessible and there’s only so much you can do. Invariably we’re going to lose people along the way because the process is hard.

Which brings us back to something I hinted at earlier: gamification is really just the application of the behavioural psychology of motivation. The process is hard so how do we get people to maintain the motivation that they started with? Most legal issues (or really any big issue) can’t be solved in one sitting. They take time and, as that time passes, things crop up in their lives that affect how motivated they are.

Or outside of that context, how do you transition someone from reading a blog post, signing a survey, etc. to take more substantive action either online or in the real world? One of the keynote speakers at the conference was BJ Fogg, who is a professor at Stanford. To oversimplify his talk to one sentence: for someone to do a certain behaviour, they need to be motivated to do it, have the ability to do it, and then have the thought to do it. So you need to break those elements down into their component parts and figure out how to exploit them to encourage people to take action. In principle this sounds really simple but in practice I think it’s a lot harder. I’m keen to do some experimenting and testing.

BJ Fogg

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some highlights and ideas that I found interesting here.

[Random note] I’m not sure if it’s encouraging or not that so many talks ended with notes about not using gamification for evil. I mean it’s good that it was said but it’s bad it had to be said.

This is just neat: lego man protests shell when you tweet

Alright, this is just a neat project. You may have heard that Greenpeace is running a campaign now to have Lego end their partnership with Shell. That campaign inspired Brian Fitzgerald (FYI – friend of the blog and my former boss) to build a lego diorama of an oil rig protest. When people tweet out #BLOCKSHELL the little protestor celebrates!

I love it. It’s a nice little tongue-in-cheek way to add to the discussion around the campaign. You can read about it here.

Apparently I’m not the only fan of Ethan Zuckerman

Ethan Zuckerman likes to talk about cute cats. Well, everyone on the internet likes to talk about cute cats but he does it academically. No, seriously. See, he has this theory called the Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism. It says that cute cats, and really all the innocuous things on the internet that amuse us, act as a cover for digital activism. So you want to sneak your activism into platforms that people care about and not cordon yourself in an activist ghetto. That way it’s harder to censor you since people will be pissed if the government takes away your internet kittens.

Cats of Jihad

Well apparently this has been picked up by fighters in Syria and Iraq. I mean #CatsofJihad is a thing. This really shouldn’t surprise me as it’s a pretty basic application of some online campaigning basics but still.

via The Verge

Twitter supports gifs (kinda)

You can now post gifs to Twitter and have them appear inline except it turns them into mp4s first.


That’s a good thing because gifs are terrible. Seriously, have you ever tried to open a a large gif on your phone? That shit loads at a glacial pace.

In any case it only really matters if your were specifically intending to share a gif in gif format for others to use. If that’s the case then just send them a link to it.

via Embedly

Brandalism – taking over the streets, one swapped ad at the time

Brandalism40 street artists. 10 cities. 365 ad takeovers. 2 days.

This is what it takes to create the largest advertising takeover in world history, A.K.A. Brandalism 2014.

Brandalism starts from the democratic conviction that the street is a site of communication, which belongs to the citizens and communities who live there. It is a rebellion against the visual assault of media giants and advertising moguls who have a stranglehold over messages and meaning in our public spaces, through which they force-feed us with images and messages to keep us insecure, unhappy, and shopping.

Subvertising is not a new concept, but this project is taking it to a whole different level. After kicking off in July 2012 with a small team and a van, Brandalism has now taken over 10 UK cities, with themost recent Brandalism Takeover  reclaiming over 360 corporate ad spaces with hand made original artworks submitted by 40 international artists.

I particularly love the way they are making it accessible to virtually anyone, by including a step-by-step guide on how to ‘interact’ with bus stop advertisement spaces in the resource section of their website.

“Because after all, they’re your streets”

Watch this video fresh out of YouTube and find out more at

 Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Russia passes new law to deter bloggers

Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.

Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.

via The New York Times

OKCupid protests Mozilla’s CEO

2014-04-01 10-53-30_OkCupid _ Free Online Dating

Yesterday OKCupid changed their site to display a protest message over the appointment of Mozilla’s (of Firefox fame) new CEO. The message reads, in part:

Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.

It’s definitely an interesting, and unusual, way to bring to light something that wasn’t getting too much attention. A dating site is not where I’d expect to see something like. Reaching that audience is a good thing.