By Candice Justice Harper | March 10, 2021

In last week’s post, we talked about using a very familiar tool, comedy, differently, in a more strategic way, and this week we will do more of the same. After spending generations building and perfecting our proverbial wheels because of a lack of resources, it is time to use what devices are readily available. So, no, these strategies are not new, per se, but I do need you to employ a different perspective to see the possibilities that lie at your feet.    

Before we get into exploring how gamification could take your race equity efforts to another level, let me say that none of these strategies will work if the people you work with are committed to ignorance. Using comedy, gamification, or any other tactic that I propose is not meant to ease the hard work of digging into our country’s DNA and extracting the strands of racism that bind it together. These strategies are merely efforts to spark change.

Think of your role like a mom of three would think of feeding her kids. The oldest child likes their kale juiced with protein powder added to it; the middle child likes it in a salad topped with almonds and apples, while the youngest wants it sautéed with bell peppers and onions. Your job is to get your children the nutrients that they need to grow. At the end of the day, you can’t make them eat, but you explore all the ways kale can be prepared to customize consumption.   

Let’s Talk About These Games, Sis.  

When I mention the term gamification, what comes to mind? For me, what comes up are memories of my brother and his friends piling into his bedroom after school to wager their lunch money on a game of NFL Madden. I also imagine my very attractive, very lazy ex-boyfriend Marcus (freshman year mistake) playing NBA 2K for what seems like days on end in college and during finals week, no less. What would you say if I told you that much of our society is gamified? Tell you more? Gladly.  

Any tactic that I propose is not meant to ease the hard work of digging into our country’s DNA and extracting the strands of racism that bind it together Click To Tweet

Think about how today’s parents potty train their kids. How do they get these little humans to stop smearing poop on walls? A prize. What’s the competition? The challenge of using the potty in their designated seat. Who are they competing against? The version of their behavior that doesn’t get applause. While potty training a child is very different from playing most video games, the concept of gamification is formed.  

As we get into more examples of gamification, let’s define what a game is. As communicated by Mayer & Johnson, a game is a “rule-based environment that is responsive to the player’s actions, offers an appropriate challenge to the player, and keeps a cumulative record of the player’s actions”. Are your wheels starting to turn now? Can you see how potty training and many other areas of our lives are gamified?

This is Dope(amine).  

With dopamine release motivating us to get the prize, new tech juggernauts Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok have effectively begun to monetize our desire to win the challenge of achieving the most impressive social status. By leveraging our innate desire to belong, we create Pulitzer Prize-worthy content for free, hoping that the algorithms would smile on us and allow us to be “seen” by people we respect and want to respect us. Without the likes, the loves, and the comments, what would our society be like today? Less anxious? Less insecure? More connected to each other? More satisfied? Many of us are caught in a game and don’t even know it.  

Now, this is not a dissertation on why people shouldn’t use social media. Still, I just wanted to point out one easy example of how gamification can keep people engaged. Take a CRM platform, Salesforce, for instance. They have a learning center called Trailhead in which they say is “the fun way to learn.” Granted, no matter what the subject is, if you find the topic interesting, taking the time to learn about the said subject is a no-brainer. But what about learning a subject that is emotionally dense, challenging in nature, and likely to implicate the learner as complicit in perpetuating an oppressive system for over 400 years? Creating an environment where people are motivated to learn about a subject like that may be more difficult. Not impossible, but perhaps more difficult.   

When the prize is substantial enough, people will find a way to learn anything. Click To Tweet

With those things in mind, Trailhead has taken dense and challenging material and created a customer journey that encourages them to earn badges as a “trailblazer.” A trailblazer can get excited about increasing their skill level, which motivates them to push through very technical material on a mission to becoming a subject matter expert in their company, which carries substantial social currency and monetary implications when job hunting. What’s the takeaway here? When the prize is substantial enough, people will find a way to learn anything. Simply put, learning about race equity to improve other people’s lives, when privilege allows you the circumstance of not having to be affected, seems to be a hard sell for many organizations these days. Yes, long term, organizations will suffer by not advancing truly inclusive efforts, but unless they are in a crisis caused by public outrage, they operate at the status quo.   

Money Moves People.  

In 2019, City Church Dayton, located in Midwest city Dayton, Ohio, with a congregation of around 200 people, raised $20K+ for their Foodbank. They also brought thousands of people out of their segregated sections of the city into the downtown area where suburban citizens were afraid to go independently. City Church Dayton also generated a substantial upswing in local restaurants and educated people about its historical legacy. All in three days! How did they do it, you ask? They (partnered with local businesses too) give away a car, a trip for 4 to Disney World, free gas for a year, and free groceries for a year as a part of their annual Lost In The City egg hunt.  

To win these prizes, contestants had to search for eggs all over the downtown area, go on a scavenger hunt to find more clues, and patronize local restaurants to earn more hints. Antoine Edmonson, one of our own, was their creative pastor at that time and recalls that “Many people commented about how this was the first time in a long time, in a pre-Covid world, that they had gone outside and explored their city. Other people commented that they learned so much history about their city through accumulating clues in hopes of winning one of the four grand prizes. They learned about businesses they never known existed and raised a large amount of money for charity in a very short time.”  

Whatever modality you choose, make it fun for people. Click To Tweet


What Now?


Ma’am. The proof is in the pudding. Using gamification to spur your racial equity efforts could be a good look for you and your team. I know that you may be wondering how in the world this technique can work for you. Honestly, this is where you’ve got to be creative, just like the ancestors were when communicating routes to freedom with each other by hiding them in the lyrics to songs. I think that one straightforward way to gamify a learning experience would be to partner with another organization to give away a substantial prize that your audience would be interested in. Connecting that prize to a journey full of learning objectives that teams of people must participate in could be fun. You could facilitate this experience virtually (having people travel through the internet to earn clues), of course, or socially distanced outside as an incentive for people to get out and move (Amazing Race, anybody?). Whatever modality you choose, make it fun for people.  

 I know that last sentence can be taken controversially, as learning about our painful history hasn’t been fun for us, ever. But maybe, just maybe, this strategy could also be used in school systems around our country. And if anybody knows the power of making subjects fun, it’s teachers. Although this way of looking at this situation may be hard to go along with today, let it sit with you for a while and do some research. We must learn to adapt, and if our current way is not working, we need to be open to pioneering something new.   

As always, it’s been a pleasure, and I’m so grateful that you’ve allowed me to take you on this journey for the last 3 weeks. Our final strategy in this series will be available at the same place and time next Wednesday. Until then, stay safe and be positive. As our beloved Dr. MLK Jr said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Keep showing up and doing the work. You’re making the ancestors proud. See you next week for strategy #3.   

Peace, grace, & power,   

Candie J