Posted by: Montola | March 8, 2010

INVOKE: The Game

World Bank’s EVOKE game has inspired an interesting competitor criticizing its policies. INVOKE is an “ARG to save the World Bank”, a “crash course in saving capitalism”.

EVOKE is a game commissioned by the World Bank, an international financial institution widely criticised for its practise of using crippling debt to force impose its socially and economically destructive policies on the Third World. EVOKE challenges players to become “social innovators” and devise solutions to the world’s social and environmental problems.

As game-playing social innovators, we gladly accept this challenge. And after extensive research and development we are proud to present: INVOKE.


Our game INVOKES the guise of progressive social activism and community organising to promote pro-capitalist ideology. It’s implicit message is that the problems of the world – including hunger, poverty, environmental destruction, injustice and disease – can and must be solved within the logic of the free market system.

INVOKE lasts for ten weeks, and every week they post a new mission to the players — to be executed in the real world. The first mission is to devise and post ideas on how the World Bank should whitewash its public image. I find this hilarious: “All of your ideas are valid, except any solution that suggests that the World Bank make online propaganda in the form of a game. They already did that – it’s called EVOKE!” They even rewrote the EVOKE comic, except for page 5 which apparently was good enough as is for the purposes of INVOKE.

I don’t know what’s the lesson for ARG designer, for company with a bad public image, or for pervasive games researcher. I remember hearing complaints on The Lost Ring based on the fact that it was financed by McDonalds and collaborated somehow with Beijing Olympic Games. Similarly I remember Vanishing Point being criticized for being a Microsoft Vista promotion. When you mobilize the grassroots, you should prepare to face criticisms such as this one.

Personally? My view on World Bank is so much influenced by various criticisms, such as Naomi Klein’s in Shock Doctrine, that I wouldn’t be thrilled to work for them.

PS. INVOKE is apparently created by Christian McCrea and Katharine Neil.

Thank you Matthijs!


  1. I do not know much about The World Bank but my friend (who has started a school in Sierra Leone) reacted immediately when I told him that they were behind the game.

    My heart was melting but now it is slowly getting cold!

  2. Christy Dena blogs the same as I do, except better thought out, with lots of citations, a keener eye on ARGs and spending more brain time overall on this than I was.

    Read it.

    Then again, ARGs are her primary field of study, so she should have some answers ready. :-)

    – Markus

  3. Adrian Hon writes brilliantly on the ARGer quest to change the world through play.

    I really should read all the things Christy links at…

    – Markus

  4. […] a spoof of Evoke or part of it because I haven’t much time to play. Following the posts of Markus Montola and Christy Dena, Invoke seems to be a […]

  5. Well, to be honest I think Evokes biggest problem may not be its funding from the World Bank.

    I’m following it – but quickly lost interest in playing, cause it simply ain’t that exciting. The gameplay at times even feels kind of embarrassing. I mean – I’m supposed to blog about how I intend to change the world (with good natured capitalism investment) while taking myself seriously. There’s so far not a sign of an alibi – it’s just me reading and writing blog-posts. No laserbeams or capes – just so-called powers like “Local Insigt” and “Courage”. It’s all a bit to do-goody-two-shoes for my taste.

  6. I have felt the same about World Without Oil and Superstruct, but I didn’t really participate them so I don’t have a real opinion. Just been wondering about the motivations to participate: If dogooding is the main motivation, what makes this work better than dogooding?

    I really hope these things work, but I’m missing evaluations.

    That’s why Teeme Ära is so brilliant. The core is dogooders with a playful alibi, the garbage scouts don’t even need an alibi since they are doing the same things orienteer treasure hunters do, but for good. And again the end cleanup is all about a festival alibi.

    And … what could be less sexy than a garbage cleanup?

    – Markus

  7. The point of Evoke (and apparantly McGonigals take on games for changing the world) is to let people take the playful mindset of games and apply it to the ordinary – which is why the game is set in the ordinary (one of this weeks missions is to volunteer for some local initiative that works for food security). Thereby people should be able to apply their “game-skills” such as a lot of enthusiasm and courage to ordinary problems.

    So far I’m mostly skeptic because the problems that arise, when you look at the issue and considering the points of situated learning – that learning isn’t so much about facts or skills but more about socializing in different contexts – then it’s a valid point to point out, that the skills that arise in play, are much more defined by the playful mindset, and that the mindset is insanely difficult to apply to the ordinary – at least such serious issues as hunger and saving the world “for real”.

    I’ll hopefully have some more structured points when I’ve read some more Goffman and prepared my presentation for Knutpunkt :)

  8. I had just posted this to the Socialissuesgames list when I came across the discussion here, so apologies for cross-posting it… but it seemed very much relevant to the discussion.

    As a current player of the World Bank’s EVOKE online game (, I can say that it certainly is an interesting use of social networking technology and game elements to try to motivate conversations, ideas, and innovations among its targeted audience (African youth). On a technical side, I think the interface implementation is rather less than intuitive. However, more seriously, I also think that (based on the episodes so far) it also teaches rather bad sustainable development practice.

    The first two-week plot in Evoke involved resolving an impending famine in Tokyo. There was no clear indication of why there was a famine in Tokyo, which seemed rather improbable given that there seemed to be no disruption to either Japanese purchasing power or patterns of world trade. The solutions that the graphic novel suggested—rooftop gardens, floating greenhouses—were gimicky, and not at all appropriate to the sorts of food insecurity problems typically experienced in sub-Saharan Africa (which tend to have to do with soil and crop productivity, transportation and storage issues,. government agricultural policies, and especially underlying poverty). Heck, I don’t think they were all that appropriate to Japan’s simulated problems, although it was impossible to tell from the information provided.

    The second plot element is now underway, involving a power shortage in Rio de Janeiro. This has a little more subtly to it—highlighting, for example, the social challenges of innovation adoption. It still contains some excessively gimicky solutions, however (piezo-electric dance floors!)

    This isn’t to say that there haven’t been some positive outcomes of the project, which have been highlighted on the World Bank’s EduTech blog:

    However, my primary critique would be that you don’t have to teach bad development practice to make the story or game engaging–on the contrary, the real challenges of food security, energy security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development are actually quite interesting, and don’t have to be distorted to create a “hook” to engage players. The core social networking component is component, but it risks sustaining development myths more than it clarifies, with bad information pushing out good.

    In this sense, the number of users in the game isn’t a very good indicator of positive output, if what those users are potentially learning is wrong!

    I coedit the Paxsims blog ( on conflict and development simulations, and we’ve had some further discussion of it there (although I’m holding off a review until the EVOKE project finishes).

  9. Thank you Rex for an interesting critique. Indeed, these kinds of games have two outputs I suppose: People who get educated or activated to do X, and the actual proposals for solutions. This can be a good thing as it insures the game project against the failure at one side, and means that it can end up winning on the both sides.

    I guess EVOKE aims at teaching people more than at finding solutions.

  10. Surely, however, problem lies when they’re teaching the the wrong things?

    This, I would argue, was the problem with the first two weeks of EVOKE.. although I’ll withhold judgment on the project overall until we’ve seen more of it.

  11. Let us know when your full critique on EVOKE comes out, I think it’ll definitely be blogworthy/linkworthy!

    I can’t comment myself, since I haven’t played the game, and am personally fairly clueless on the issues themselves.

    (I assumed the Japan food shortage was a permanent-ish out of fish error, but that was just a guess. If rooftop gardens solved the problems of sub-Saharan Africa, I guess they’d have them everywhere already…)

  12. […] for Good EVOKE and INVOKE got some competition!  Check out Conspiracy for Good for “new kind of storytelling that […]

  13. […] III, IV) have always been popular, as have our commentaries of ongoing controversies (Anna Odell, Invoke, Conspiracy for Good). The ones I’m particularly happy made the top ten are my additional […]

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