In 2011, residents of Macon, Georgia received over $65,000 in free local currency—with a catch.
This money was locked in bonds redeemable for an unknown value between $10 and $100. Prior to circulation, each bond was cut in half. Residents of Macon wishing to “cash” their bonds were required to first find the missing half, held by an unknown community member.
These were the rules for Macon Money, a real-world game created by Area/Code Inc. in collaboration with several community partners. Benjamin Stokes was brought on board by the Knight Foundation as an advisor and researcher for the game. Stokes describes real-world games as activities where “playing the game is congruent with making impact in the world; making progress in the game, also does something in the real world.” Macon Money was designed to foster civic engagement through a number of means.
First, the two halves of each bond were intentionally distributed in neighborhoods on opposite ends of Macon, or in neighborhoods characterized by different socio-economic status. This “game mechanic” forced residents who would not normally interact to collaborate towards a common goal. Bond holders found each other through a designated website, social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, and even serendipitous face-to-face interaction.
Bonds were redeemable for Macon Money, a currency that could only be spent at local businesses (which were reimbursed with U.S. currency). This ensured continuing engagement with the Macon community, and in some cases continuing engagement between players. Macon Money was also designed to foster community identity through the visual design of the currency itself. Macon dollars depicted symbols of communal value, such a picture of Otis Redding, a native of the town.
While the game Macon Money is over, researchers continue to analyze the how the game helped foster civic engagement within a local community. Most recently, Stokes described these impacts during a talk at American University co-sponsored by The American University Game Lab, the Series Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the AU Library, and the American University Center for Media and Social Impact. A video for the talk was recently posted here:
Stokes challenges: “Now is a critical moment, when we think about what can be done, to focus on engagement, and how people can actually connect together.” Games, he believes, can solve this concern.