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Big Game to Take Over Atlanta This Summer


"Can a game change the world?” This question was posed to Celia Pearce a couple of years ago, and now she and the Georgia Tech Emergent Game Group intend to show that it can. This summer, Pearce’s game research lab, in partnership with the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI), will present ActionQuest: ATL, a large-scale public “Big Game” where the goal isn’t racking up the most points or defeating evil warlords, but making the world a better place and having fun in the process.

On the Mad Housers Quest, players, accompanied by trained volunteers, will search through wooded areas, along train tracks and underneath bridges looking for homeless settlements and campsites such as this one. (Courtesy: Salma Abdulrahman/Mad Housers)
Using play as an engine for social change, ActionQuest: ATL is believed to be the first “Big Game” with activist aims and the first “Big Game” ever held in Atlanta. Hosted in conjunction with U.S. Social Forum (, the game
engages players in a series of cooperative quests that involve taking real-world social action in specific locations, such as identifying shelter needs for the homeless or beautifying neighborhoods by planting wildflowers on vacant lots, to name just two. After completing a “quest action,” players e-mail or text message photographic evidence of its completion to an online action map that is created from the collective evidence that all the players have turned in. The more quest actions, the more complete the map becomes.

"Every day, millions of people log onto online games and spend hours working collaboratively on very difficult problems in imaginary worlds,” said Pearce, director of Georgia Tech’s Emergent Game Group and the Experimental Game Laboratory. “We wanted to see if we could harness that same energy and apply it to real-world problems.”

She and her collaborators at DS4SI also saw the opportunity to connect Atlantans with the 10,000 social activist attendees of the U.S. Social Forum. By spreading activist activities all over the city, game organizers hope to not only raise awareness of the conference, but also give locals a fun way to engage with social justice issues in Atlanta. The game also gives attendees of the conference an alternate way to tour the city.

"We are partnering with activist organizations like the Mad Housers and Citizens for Progressive Transit to develop a wide range of challenge levels for players, from throwing seeds in empty lots to trying to navigate Atlanta in a wheelchair,” said Peace. “We also think this will be a great weekend outing for families who can have fun together while learning about social justice issues.”
Unlike a standard video or board game that’s typically played indoors by one or a few people at a time, “Big Games” involve hundreds of people and are played outdoors over a large geographical area. Perhaps the best known of these was PacManhattan, produced by students at New York University, who dressed up in costume and played the basic rules of the video game classic Pac-Man in the streets of New York. ActionQuest:ATL channels the excitement and enthusiasm of this concept, bringing a new dimension of fun to social activism.

“Whether or not ActionQuest: ATL can actually change the world remains to be seen,” said Pearce. “But at the very least, we hope it changes the way people see the world. Hopefully they’ll see that collectively, they have the power to change it.”

ActionQuest: ATL runs daily from noon to 8PM, June 28-July 1, 2007. Players can register online at or in-person at one of two base camps at the Little Five Points Community Center (1083 Austin Ave. N.E. 30307) or Renaissance Park (Piedmont & Pine). For information send e-mail to .


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