Camover Upgrades Alternate Reality Gaming to the Gamification of Protest-Vandalism


Activists in Berlin, Germany have come up with a way to keep their members engaged and hook in the public to become part of what is essentially a vandalism spree against government surveillance as a form of protest. The game, named Camover, involves members moving through public spaces in disguise and smashing CCTV cameras, recording the activity and posting it on YouTube for points.

This is an excellent example of gamification employed to expand the breadth and reach of an activist cause. By making smashing CCTV cameras into a game it will also act to help players overcome fears of law enforcement by establishing a second set of rules—after all, it is illegally usually to damage/destroy government property even in protest.

From an article on the activity in the Guardian, the rules of the game come to light:

The rules of Camover are simple: mobilise a crew and think of a name that starts with “command”, “brigade” or “cell”, followed by the moniker of a historical figure (Van der Lubbe, a Dutch bricklayer convicted of setting fire to the Reichstag in 1933, is one name being used). Then destroy as many CCTV cameras as you can. Concealing your identity, while not essential, is recommended. Finally, video your trail of destruction and post it on the game’s website – although even keeping track of the homepage can be a challenge in itself, as it is continually being shut down.

The use of CCTV cameras has become a thorny issue across Germany’s political spectrum as more cameras have been installed in public since 2012. There is a long-running theme of surveillance socieities in Europe generating controversy and questions about not just their efficacy but the actual value of the “safety” generated by their presence. Even the United States has not been entirely untouched by this debate (although it’s focused more on red light and speeding cameras that are designed more to make money than promote safety.)

Surveillance societies show up commonly in cyberpunk and dystopian science fiction as a speculation as to where the ubiquity of government-controlled cameras as seen in books, movies, and even video games. In fact, the very premise behind the highly anticipated game Watch Dogs focuses on being able to gather data on, track, and examine the entire world based on the electronic footprint of a person.

The  Guardian has a video of the activity played out in Camover to better explain not just the rules but how participants take on their roles.

Gamification as a proxy-set-of-rules hijacks social mores to other goals

Video games and gaming in general has shown that people really enjoy having goals and “filling up bars.” In fact, many games can be seen to have started to release meta-games that enable players to play the same thing again, but attempt to do everything in that game for achievements. This meta-gaming knowledge is what led to the understanding of how gamification could be used to make otherwise tedious, dangerous, or less-savory tasks more interesting.

Camover uses gamification for yet another reason: it gives players who may otherwise not want to engage in this sort of vandalism-protest (due to its illegality or social disdain) by giving players a way to receive reputation and applause for their activity.

“We thought it would motivate inactive people out there if we made a video-invitation to this reality-game,” the creator of Camover (who wanted to remain anonymous) told the Guardian reporter. “Although we call it a game, we are quite serious about it: our aim is to destroy as many cameras as possible and to have an influence on video surveillance in our cities.”

By providing a second set of rules for players the activists seeking participation have given a second set of rules that deliberately supplants the laws against vandalism and at the same time encodes self-defense against those laws. Although, the self-recording aspect does tend to incriminate the actors even though they’re working to cover or hide their identities.

Gamification of this sort may work better on a social network than through a website—as we’ve seen with Camover that website keeps getting shut down—but thrust into the cloud so that it always runs through proxies, functioning by tagging and collating videos and tweets from phones, and enabled with a augmented reality interface it could be virtually unstoppable.