- Play and Performance in Civic Space
- Reframing Learning and Mobile
- Play and real-world social change
Akoha (2008-2011) was a social platform for simple real-world missions, a subset of which were civic. Participants could create new missions, or document their success with others’ challenges. Missions range from going vegetarian for a day, to debating the “I Have a Dream” speech. The iPhone application supplemented the primary web platform.
Most of Akoha does not look or sound civic. Only one of the mission categories explicitly addresses "social causes." The other nine concern self-actualization in various forms, from "health and well-being" to family time, engaging with popular culture, and the discovery of travel. Is this breadth an upside or downside? That depends on your civic goals, which might include:
1. Fostering citizen journalism, as participants report on civic themes in their communities
2. Informal civic learning, as participants reflect on their civic experiences in new ways through stories and pictures
3. Building social capital, as participants create new ties across traditional social groups
These civic goals may be structurally possible with Akoha, but they are rhetorically hidden. Even as Akoha's missions bring people into the real world, they avoid the "we are purely civic" framing that occurs on many activist and volunteering websites. For the Akoha community, it's OK to admit that you are mainly there to have fun, or are trying to improve yourself (and not simply sacrificing for others).
Using the mobile interface, Akoha missions can be documented on a bus in real-time, or browsed from a neighborhood park. Their mobile tech is fairly basic, consisting mainly of reskinning their existing website, with little use of GPS or other mobile sensor data. As a result, Akoha's mobile interface is only minimally aware of the user's location.
The experience is deeply social, as friends create missions for each other, and share their stories. More formal recognition for participation comes as players earn badge-like award All players' profiles feature their picture, personal statement, and a quantitative scoreboard -- including their "player level," number of missions completed, and awards. This gives it some similarity to real-world activity badge systems like FourSquare.
In 2010, I interviewed Alex Eberts, co-founder of Akoha and an influential force behind its design. He spoke of his desire to find "psychological drivers that are common to the real-world, and to game play." He declares his design of Akoha to be were informed by self-determination theory, which Eberts first came across in a session at the Game Developers Conference.
"Akoha was founded by Austin Hill and Alex Eberts, who together co-founded Zero-Knowledge Systems (now RadialPoint) in 1997. In 2008, the startup received $1.9 million in funding from David Chamandy (co-founder, Lavalife), Ron Dembo (founder, Zerofootprint.net), film producer Jake Eberts (Chariots of Fire, Ghandi), and seed fund Montreal Start Up." (See the Tech Crunch article.)
For a longer analysis, see Stokes' analysis of Akoha on Henry Jenkins' blog.
Game OverviewA social platform for hundreds of real-world missions
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