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Playing Brave: Online Gaming With Real Life Missions

PlayBrave is a game that prompts people to change the world through a series of tasks given to them by a fictional secret society.

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I will begin with a wish and work backward: I wish for a world transformed through play. What, you might ask, would such a world look like? This is the question that sits at the heart of Institute of Play, a nonprofit I run focused on empowering people to thrive in a connected world. Our work uses game design and play as levers for change in the design of learning systems, products, programs, and experiences. And while we have designed things from public schools to summer camps, it is our latest project that looks to most fully fulfill this wish.
PlayBrave is a massively multiplayer online social game about playing together to build a kinder, braver world. Developed in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation and Gigantic Mechanic, the game challenges players to take on missions emitted from a secret society working to create a more open and brave world. The society knows that no single act changes the world. But they also realize every act counts and impacts others. They know that to change the world they’ll need to generate thousands, if not millions of actions over the next several months. Can this secret society do this? Can they change the world through their creations? That’s the ultimate challenge of PlayBrave.
One core principle of play is the permission it offers to experiment—with ideas, materials, and ultimately with ways of being with other people. When we choose to play, we open ourselves up to the possibility of seeing and acting in the world and with others in new and sometimes unexpected ways. PlayBrave challenges players to enter a space of play by engaging in a PlayBrave action. These actions range from simple tasks (e.g. “record a video of someone reciting a poem about intolerance and bullying, and upload it to YouTube where everyone can hear it”), to more complex tasks that might require coordinating with other members of the player community (e.g. “find a work of art that promotes kindness and bravery and share it”). Each challenge contains within it the potential for acts of resistance, kindness, experimentation and, above all, change.

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