Virtual currencies and helping your neighbours on Farmville
are giving way to a real currency helping neighbours in Macon, Georgia
as big-game firm Area/Code
is set to debut Macon Money
, one of two games funded by the Knight Foundation
to foster community development.
Area/Code is in the final phases of rolling out the game, which includes a real-life currency accepted by local businesses and a corresponding set of rules where players collaborate to get the currency.
Here's how it works: The organisers distribute special symbol-coded bonds, each redeemable for an unknown denomination in Macon Money, $10, $20, $50 or $100.
But they only distribute half of a bond per person. In order to redeem it and get paid (in full - each player gets the denomination, they don't split it), players have to find their opposite half, and go together to redemption areas. They can then spend the special Macon Money at participating local retailers.
Distribution of the bonds will be orchestrated to achieve maximum mixing of Macon's various social sets, age ranges and races, hopefully 'changing the social fabric to make people feel more comfortable in their communities', says Area/Code senior producer Kati London
The game, which launches on 10 October, will use everyday events as well as new channels to help bondholders unite. For example, London says, the group has been working on a knowledge share with another Knight grant recipient, the College Hill Corridor Commission
. The Commission regularly draws over 500 Maconites to its Second Sunday
events, making them an ideal venue for bondholders to meet and look for their opposite numbers. Another strategy has a local radio DJ devoting the lunchtime program to the game, taking over a local business and inviting people to find their match.
Area/Code received a grant for $963,900 from the foundation, the philanthropic arm of US newspaper company Knight-Ridder
, to develop a pair of community-growing games. Macon Money's companion, in Biloxi, Mississippi
, is Battlestorm
, a disaster preparedness game that allows children to fight against the malevolent forces of a hurricane with strategy and readiness. It debuts in 2011. The Knight Foundation paid out over $105 million in grants last year.
'From Knight's perspective, they're really interested in applying some of the hopes and intentions of games that change behavior', London says. 'They wanted to test it out within the community engagement space'.Trabian Shorters
, Knight Foundation's vice president for communities, agrees. He wrote on the foundation's blog 'when it comes to changing people's behavior, games can be more useful than typical social science'.
The game has been in development for about a year already, London says. 'The process has been fascinating - even before these grants were made we went in to five Knight communities with a researcher, doing primary research, to identify really specific community issues around engagement. Out of that we came up with briefs for ourselves, sort of design mandates, and we went through a vetting process with the stakeholders and the Knight board'.
The Knight Foundation