Science in the Wild Radio Show and Podcast with Hosts Gary Riccio and Nathan Roman

Unleashing the power of community play: Civil hacking in online games

Unleashing the power of community play: Civil hacking in online games


justinIn this episode, Gary and Nathan interview Justin Bastian, a social entrepreneur in the online games space. Justin’s journey began ten years ago when he first engaged the military-style, third-person tactical shooter genre of online games. These types of games require team strategy as well as precision hand-eye coordination under time pressure. Strategies are developed over the course of weeks with teammates in a broader community of gamers. The communication and leadership developed in such communities of practice often has an impact in the life of gamers beyond games.

As a leader in his game community, Justin gained a lot of experience iteratively developing processes and systems required for community organization and player development. He also accumulated a variety of experiences with significant interpersonal interactions among gamers in his community. These experiences gave him confidence that his skills could also be applied to business. After a couple of successful ventures with companies in other industries, Justin decided to merge his gaming and business interests and return to the online games space as an entrepreneur. In 2011, Justin launched SOF Studios with his business mentor and a retired US Special Operations veteran. He was motivated to do so by the gradual disappearance of the type of shooter gameplay he originally fell in love with and to honor US veterans.

His entrepreneurship centered on community, in particular communities of gamers who shared a prosocial consciousness. Collaborative innovation in his community was driven by the desire to make prosocial “cool.” Toward that end, they developed a constitution and bill of rights for their community to codify their values and make explicit their sense of shared purpose. This became the basis for a deep connection between Gary and Justin given the work that Gary and his colleagues had done with outcomes based training and education for the U.S. Army.  Justin found this convergence of insight with the scientific community to be validating and highly motivating. He echoed the comments of Scott Flanagan, in an earlier episode, that scientists helped him understand and communicate what was special about his community and the expertise within it.

Justin also alluded to meaningful interpersonal experiences within his community. This currently is being addressed in a TED Conversation about Community Organization and Impact in Online Games. He re-emphasized the importance of micro-experiences and relationships as the foundation for community. This largely untold story of community in online games is the basis for Justin’s belief that the games industry can lead a transformation in making prosocial behavior cool, such as in social action through prosocial games and community play. Consistent with this belief, Justin announced his new initiative that he hopes will unleash the power of community play and raise consciousness about the deadly resource war in the Congo. This was the first public announcement of the initiative.

The intent of Justin’s initiative in conflict-free electronics is to marshal the energy and interest of gamers, as consumers of electronics, by providing them with both visibility and opportunities for influence on efforts to end the atrocities. Justin stressed that one has to give consumers something they can actually do, such as in-game social action, to put social and political pressure on those who are contributing to this problem through ignorance or inaction.

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Key Terms and Concepts

  • life of gamers beyond games
  • prosocial
  • constitution and bill of rights
  • sense of shared purpose
  • understand and communicate
  • micro-experiences
  • conflict-free electronics