As I always say, listening to your gut feeling will go a long (long) way.
Chris Hartpence wanted to change the world and decided to listen to his. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could design a game such that the simple act of playing the game would change things in the physical world,” he asked himself. The answer came in the form of a game called “Play the Planet, Save the World.”
While the game is just in its infancy, I believe in highlighting initiatives that seek to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. So, I decided to ask Chris a few questions…
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Chris, thank you for answering my questions. Is there a particular event that triggered your desire to create the game?
Chris Hartpence: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in sustainability and resilience…not because I think there’s a zombie apocalypse right around the corner or anything, but simply because I think our first charge as human beings is to leave the planet in better shape than we found it. We can’t do that UNLESS we’re living sustainably, and we can’t safeguard our societal and historical legacies from loss if we’re overly centralized. If every “cell” (community) in our society can code for the entire society’s rebuilding from the ground up, we are much more robust than otherwise. With the tech that’s readily available today, we can EASILY accomplish this goal.
I have also been a hobbyist level game designer for going on two decades now. I don’t know that there was a singular moment when it occurred to me to combine my tech background with my love of game design…more like a thousand tiny, incremental decisions that slowly morphed into the idea settling down over my brain over time, than a sudden flash of inspiration. In a way, it almost seems…inevitable that I arrived at this point, if that makes sense.
CM: Why the name “Play the Planet, Save the World”?
CH: The name choice was absolutely deliberate, and born from a conversation I had with myself about games and the state of the world. I began with a simple (and bizarre) question: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could design a game that, by the simple act of playing it, I could actually change things in the real world?”
When you read the words, it sounds like a fool’s errand, and utterly impossible. How could this even be possible?
I confess that for the better part of a month, most of my “design time” amount to me beating my head against my desk in frustration…I just couldn’t “see it” – I had posed for myself a question I couldn’t imagine an answer to (even a hypothetical one) – and I found that to be immensely frustrating.
In time though (after two months of a steady diet of no-doze, diet mountain dew, five hour energy drinks and nachos with conqueso dip), I finally had a breakthrough. I had created an outline that would allow me to do two things I cared deeply about. Making a cool game, and doing something tangible to save the world/move toward a more sustainable, resilient society. Every time I see the URL, I’m reminded of that “breakthrough moment.” :)
CM: Could you give us a quick tour of the community? What are some of the main features?
CH: Design wise, the site itself is not dissimilar from navigating around the file folders of your desktop computer. The “group structure” mirrors your file folder structure on purpose, because it’s intuitive, and easy for people to understand.
The main unit of organization on the site is the Holon. Holon is a Greek word that means a thing that’s both wholly self sufficient, and part of a larger whole at the same time…the perfect name for what I hope that this site enables us to create (a global network of sustainable, resilient communities).
Beneath these top level structures, paid account holders can construct up to five groups. Every group that gets constructed has a number of features that may be turned on/off at will, including a group based chat, event calendar, shared doc creation, a group blog, discussion forums, and the like – this is the mechanism that breaks down traditional org structures. Each agency is considered its own “thing” and as such, there are no informal interactions possible. Not so with this setup. If you want to get in touch with EVERYONE in a given location, chat in the Holon level room. Want to check to make sure you’re not scheduling your event on the same day a related agency is scheduling theirs? Again…check it at the Holon level.
On the other hand, you may want to call a board meeting of JUST your group’s members. Schedule that in your group’s calendar, not on the main (public) one.
Need to set up a private “steering committee” to look after certain things? Easily done. Just establish a private (invitation only) sub group beneath your main agency group, which gives you direct control over who sees the stuff going on there.
The site as a whole (and each group and sub group) also contains a variety of “hooks” allowing users to interact with other popular social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are the three I’ve focused on so far, though the “group chat” also has hooks to YouTube).
The idea is that under the umbrella of a holon, various social groups, non profits, churches, businesses, and interested individuals can pool their ideas and resources, working on local solutions to local problems, but doing so in an environment that seamlessly scales globally. What this allows is for ideas to easily cross from one holon to another, so that we can derive a series of “best practices” from local solutions developed in a worldwide laboratory.
There’s also a learning management system attached to each group that can be toggled on/off as needed. We use it in a rather innovative way to create “quests.” Quests can literally be anything from learning to navigate the site, to constructing a “Level 1 Fab-Lab” (with detailed action steps on how to go about doing that). Quests, of course, aren’t done simply because they’re there…there are various rewards attached to them. So far, these are limited to various achievement badges, but we’ve got plans to expand this in numerous directions – and the cool thing is…anyone with a paid account can create groups, and thus, can create quests, so the sky’s literally the limit here!
CH: I did about 95% of the work on my own, over a period of about four months, hiring out a web design company to tighten stuff up behind me and handle about half a dozen technical glitches that just mystified me. I pulled their name out of a hat and got lucky. :) I also have half a dozen brave souls who have been testing the site with me. They live all over the world (Massachusetts, California, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Sweden) – most of these, I met while playing ANOTHER online game, so it seemed like a really natural fit, both for them and for me!
CH: So far, none, but I expect that to change in short order. I began development December 2012 (about two weeks before Christmas), and revealed it to Zonta (one of half a dozen non profits I held extensive “needs assessment” interviews with while designing) yesterday, on March 19, so it hasn’t had an opportunity yet to really demonstrate what it’s capable of, but already it has helped to reveal a few innovative solutions to problems and we’re in the process of turning those plans into actions (example: area soup kitchens cite a chronic lack of funds as their major problem…not enough money to feed all those who are hungry) – so you’d automatically gravitate to a funding drive or something similar to resolve that, right? Except we didn’t.
Instead of looking at the money as the root problem, we looked at it in a different light. The money’s a proxy for the real problem, which is efficiency.
In doing research in my county (Horry), I also found a coupon clipping club. My proposed solution: Why couldn’t we get the Power Coupon Brigade to go shopping for the Food Banks once a month?
That idea alone could very nearly eliminate hunger in Horry county, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (I’m talking to the coupon folks next week!)
CH: Absolutely pivotal. My first goal was to build the thing, but now that I’ve got the basic structure sketched out, the singlemost important thing I can do is to plant the seeds of this idea into the global social consciousness by getting it into as many social networks as I possibly can!
CM: Any plan to integrate with social networks?
CH: Ohhhh yes! We’ve already got a number of “hooks” to the big social network, and my hope is that this will only expand over time!
For more information on “Play the Planet, Save the World,” visit www.playtheplanet.org.