Armchair Revolutionary merges doing good with playing

A group of Hollywood-based entrepreneurs is embarking on an effort to take social activism to the next level: Gaming.

A website, called Armchair Revolutionary (armrev.org), launches today, combining online gaming and crowdsourcing with social activism.

Users register on the site and are faced with a number of tasks, quizzes, votes and other activities, all tied to certain “projects” or causes.

Armchair Revolutionary launches with three projects, including Make Waves, in which users help create a game promoting the protection of the oceans, with each player getting a plot of water to care for; End of Darkness, which includes a quiz and a way to finance a company that will sell affordable solar kits to the poor and Hack Your Body, in which users take a quiz about genetic research and can donate to a documentary about genomics revolution.

The site uses a “virtual currency,” called kredz, with 3 kredz equivalent to 99 cents. Akin to the way that groups like MoveOn.org collected huge sums in small-dollar contributions, the idea is that riskier projects, like those tied to energy and the environment, are more likely to get financed by amassing large numbers of small donors via micropayments.

Ariel Hauter, the org’s president, said one of the motivations behind Armchair Revolutionary is to find a new way to draw donors beyond being “guilt driven” or “crisis driven.”

“A game allows you to do things in a much more sustainable way,” he said.

The site also will raise money via the sale of digital artwork, which can be used to customize profiles.

He added that plans are in the works to tie games to real-time data, so players can get a sense of the progress of a particular project.

Hauter, along with Ori Neidich, co-founded non-profit org the Hollywood Hill, which has been bringing together industry professionals with experts in technology and science via seminars and educational events since 2004. Its advisers include Lawrence Bender and Scott Z. Burns, as well as gaming industry publishers and producers Robin Hunicke, Susan Bonds and Adam Sussman. The Hollywood Hill is collaborating in the development of the social change games with the USC Games Institute and its director, Chris Swain, on what is called the Play4Change Lab.

Games for social change have been an emerging category in recent years, with such titles as Darfur Is Dying, a Web game put out by MTV in 2006 that tried to engage users in the crisis in Sudan.

Another org, Games for Change, launched in 2004, holds an annual festival bringing together designers and developers with government officials and activists. Its next event is planned for next month in New York, featuring the White House’s chief technology officer.

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