Attention is a finite good. Brands – be it a government counter-terrorism unit or a small charity campaigning for the rights of blue whales – are in a constant competition for attention with significantly less demanding content. A funny face-swap picture that doesn’t ask to make a donation, or a “9 Reasons Why Kittens Are Great” listicle will not require the reader to refine their position on violent extremism.
Millennials in particular are a hard audience to attract. Inherently suspicious and skeptical, they instinctively reject conventional advertising and old-fashioned media. Instead, they seek authentic content through non-conventional mediums. For this reason, it is no longer enough for the content to be interesting and unique, the packaging needs to be gripping too, and a digital game is as good as it gets.
Gamification – the practice of applying elements of a computer game in other human activities – has been a growing trend in internal communication, but it has yet to become a staple solution to other communication head-scratchers like countering violent extremism or raising awareness for a cause.
The bad guys are in fact ahead of us. Two such examples are ‘Special Force’, a long-standing game attributed to Hezbollah in which a first person shoot ‘em-up format involves the targeting of Israeli Defence Force troops and the reported modification of ARMA III by ISIS as a recruitment tool.
Having said that, there is some hope at the end of the tunnel as more communicators begin to appreciate the power of a game in generating engagement and it’s not just Kim Kardashian. One of the best examples of that is Depaul UK, a charity working with homeless youths. They launched an app where users had to look after a young person tamagotchi-style and make sure the youth had enough food, found warm shelter and a sturdy sleeping bag. Whereas the app may have come across as unnecessarily patronizing and victimizing, it got over 600,000 downloads and plenty of media coverage for Depaul’s cause.
Similarly, CVE actors in Pakistan have launched a video game and animated 3D series titled ‘Burka Avengers’ to counter violent extremism. The series feature a female protagonist that fights terrorists and other evils including polio, through education. The series are complimented with online games that allow users to fight terrorists with books and pens. The show and the game have both received global acclaim, but their success story is yet to be replicated elsewhere.
The gist of it all is very simple: if the information you’re dispersing is not naturally engaging, make the packaging more appealing – gamify it. Maybe it’s about time gamifactions was more seriously used for socially positive ends too. To paraphrase Ella Fitzerald’s classic: “Corporations do it, terrorist organisations do it, even Kim Kardashian does it. Let’s do it. Let’s gamify it”.
Donara Barojan is a junior associate with a strong interest in countering violent extremism through digital engagement.