“I know what you’ve heard about Israelis. That we’re neurotic and crazy. That we don’t know how to shut up and we don’t know how to drive. Well, you’d be crazy and in a hurry too if people were always trying to kill you!”
I actually hadn’t heard any of those stereotypes about Israelis. If you had asked me, Israelis were not different from what I’d known of Italians- warm and welcoming people who would invite you to their home for dinner if they caught you wandering Ben Yahuda Street aimlessly. In January of 2006 I spent ten days hearing nothing but saintly and heroic stories about Israelis, and the first time I had heard any criticism about Israelis was on the last day of that trip: a Tzipi Livni-look-alike whose job it was to welcome young tourists to Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall brought us up to speed on what people were saying about Israel, how most of it was demonstrably false, “and here’s why..”
I’m reminded of this story playing the Israeli Defense Force’s new gamified app IDF Ranks, a virtual means of spreading the message “this is what people are saying about Israel, and here is how it is demonstrably false.” Points and badges are earned by players as rewards for sharing articles from IDF on Facebook and Twitter, subscribing to the site’s updates, and for blog visits. Playing it, I sense that unique Israeli mix of paranoia and sarcastic teasing which belies the seriousness of the existentialist threats the nation faces on a daily basis.
Where The App Succeeds
IDF Ranks’ designers have paid close attention to the basics of how to use badges and point systems: they reward the player right away for joining the game and continue to gradually reward the player for each incremental achievement until the player has acclimated to the game, when points are awarded more sparingly and in higher numbers.
The game makes excellent use of a leaderboard where the highest achievers in the game are showcased right below your avatar, giving you a goal to strive for while allowing the games achiever-types and killer-types the fame they crave.
The IDF Ranks game sits on the corner of your screen as you browse the IDF blog, a reminder that it’s there and you are involved in the game, and this feels very encouraging. The introduction of the game itself seems to have built enthusiasm and excitement among core supporters of the IDF, turning them into PR officers. I discussed the game with a few friends of mine after kabballat shabbat services Friday night, and those that had played it said they were very excited about this game. I found myself searching through IDFblog articles new and old for something to like and share in order to level up.
Where The App Could Improve
When creating a game it is important to use multiple levels as well as badges. Players want to know they’re heading in the direction the designer wants them to go in, while having a delightful status symbol others covet. I had a feeling that the badges and levels were serving the same purpose. The different levels you obtain, called “Ranks” were more enjoyable for me to earn because of the humor in their commentary (“Don’t get cocky now! You’ve only been in the IDF for a couple of months. The hard part is just starting.”) The badges were hit-or-miss (do I really want an Internet Explorer badge? Doesn’t this just mean I’ve mastered Microsoft’s browser?).
The leaderboard has a very literal ranking, which can work in a small dedicated community (though it feels overwhelming to be ranked 594- how am I ever going to surpass all those people?), but as the community grows, it would be wise to rank players among different classes of players and among people they know, and have the ultimate top 5 or top 10 on the board as well, so that each player feels there is hope in continuing to compete.
IDF Ranks could definitely expand its social features in the future, for example, having teams of players compete in trivia contests using real data from the IDF blog (“How many tons of food were shipped to Gaza by Israel?”)
It is great to see the IDF jump into the realm of gamification with such gusto. It reflects the entrepreneurial nature of Israel as a start-up nation, and as Jonah Lehrer pointed out in a section of his book Imagine, the IDF has alot to do with fostering this culture, acting as a makeshift fraternity and sorority for Israeli tech professionals. It is more than appropriate that the IDF itself is turning to entrepreneurial tools such as gamification to achieve an edge in the PR battle, which has real, lasting political and social consequences for Israelis.
As a tool for information dissemination, it will be interesting to see if IDF Ranks spreads beyond an already loyal echo chamber of followers to people who are on the fence about Israel , who could be swayed by new information to be more open to the idea that Israel isn’t solely an aggressor nation. Could IDF Ranks be tweaked into something neutral parties would want to play just for fun? Remember, the goal of gamification is to have fun first, then look back and realize all you learned when you weren’t even trying.
It is quite an impressive feat to voluntarily recruit players for an online virtual military associated with a military in which actual service is mandatory. If the goal of IDF Ranks is to empower people to defend the Israeli military while getting positive re-enforcement through badges and points, the app definitely succeeds in engaging multipliers on Twitter and Facebook, where the message “this is what people are saying about Israel, and here is how it is demonstrably false” can spread exponentially.