When you are angry, how do you respond? Do you (a) vent it there and then, (b) read, (c) work out (d) tell yourself there are way more important things to get annoyed about than a bloody Find Your Spirit Animal Facebook app from Greenpeace (which the above screen shot is from) and wonder off to do something more useful, but still let it bug you for months and months so eventually you combine it with a load of other petty grumps and write a ranty column about it?
I choose (d). If you have an iPad and live in the UK you can read it in Popular Science UK magazine. If not, it’ll be up on their blog soon, and I’ll edit in a link here when it is.
It’s not the silliness of the idea of a spirit animal which annoys me, it’s the lack of attempt to engage audiences with any knowledge about the animals this app is meant to be promoting the preservation of. I don’t want to pick on Greenpeace though, it’s not like they are alone in applying a rather limited approach to digital “interactivity” (perhaps better call it “activity”, interactivity requires space to listen). Have a go at Energy Ninjas and Richie’s World Of Adventure, for example. A recent Greenpeace campaign even neatly parodied how patronising this sort of content can be, with Angry Bergs. Plus, we’ve been rather bluntly “gamifing” science for a while, way before the web: This one’s from 1804.
I’m tempted to argue that we shouldn’t turn science into games because the rules are always up for debate; we should be discussing and unpicking those rules instead. But that’s a bit simplistic. I think there are ways games can be used well in science communication, and are (the Pop Sci column references some more inspiring examples). Still, I want to see them taken more seriously as a medium for sharing, doing and exploring science. I want to see games that work to connect players with data and invite get them to do creative things with it; games that listen as well as educate. I want to see more ambition and more respect for audiences.