Jane McGonigal believes in gamers, because they're trained to believe they can win. She's built an alternate-reality game to tap that confidence and channel it into good works benefiting gamers' communities, with the larger goal of fostering empowerment in Africa.
Urgent Evoke is the name of this game, profiled along with McGonigal (pictured) today by CNN.com. Very broadly speaking, players register, then participate in a comic-book storyline in which the main character sends out an "Urgent Evoke" message about some world harm taking place - clean water shortage, famine, etc. Players then have 10 weeks to, in the real world, do something that meaningfully addresses this kind of crisis, whether that's volunteering at a soup kitchen or working with a local organization with a purpose relevant to the story.
Players catalogue their work and provide evidence of it (usually photos or a video) for review, and are then awarded points in the game's online manifestation relative to how much they did. Community members may also award additional in-game perks or attributes as a reward for good work. Winners are awarded mentorships, internships, scholarships and start-up money. The World Bank Institute has funded the project to the tune of $500,000.
It is a bit goody-goody and the game has some challenges ahead of it - not the least of which is the fact it's intended to be played throughout Africa, which has the lowest rates of Internet access found anywhere in the world.
But it is an admirable effort, and if nothing else, it should make a gamer feel good to be described as motivated, optimistic, trained to win, and capable of superior effort when faced with a challenge. We can sit around and wish we could focus that energy for good, or we can at least start trying, as McGonigal has.