A serious game with some gamification elements, Battle for the Bay sets out to educate San Franciscans on the ongoing threats to the bay. Produced by Save the Bay, the game takes players through the tumultuous history of protecting the wetlands, rivers, and watersheds that benefit a healthy marine ecosystem. There are some typical contest rewards (an iPad), as well as a leaderboard based on players from cities around the bay. Although the game itself is digital, there are real effects and every new player to the game means a $1 donated to the cause.
The game is a pretty straightforward trivia model. Players answer questions around top conflicts in each decade. Beginning with the battle against Santa Fe Railroad’s efforts to fill in wetlands in the 1960’s, players go through each decade competing on time limits. Questions are pretty specific, and if you are not from the Bay Area, you might need to resort to Wikipedia. “Which nickname is frowned upon by locals?” I really didn’t know (answer: Frisco).
Gamification comes into play in two ways, one extrinsic and one deeply tied to the motivations of the game. Based off of a leaderboard that keeps track of how many players come from each city, the winning polis receives a happy hour hosted by Save the Bay. Drinking booze is fun and all, but this reward seems outside the scope of the campaign. The second benefit is more fitting and ties donations directly to the number of people who participate in the game. Two local philanthropists offered to donate $1 to Save The Bay, for up to $10,000 to “provide incentive for players to share the game with their networks, and giving players the opportunity to make a real, meaningful contribution to the Bay”. This model of donations tied to virtual play has been seen before, but not often is the game theme and the donation closely linked.
In conclusion, Battle for the Bay is a fun game to learn some trivia about San Francisco, the birthplace of the environmental movement, but it lacks in supporting gamification of direct action to protect the Bay Area’s natural resources. It would be great to see a campaign use gamification to build support for physical, on-the-ground participation (think The Commons based around tagging and cleaning up environmental threats).
Gamification of environmental conversation still has some room to grow, but its great to see Battle for the Bay taking the first steps.