When Governments Become Game Masters, Part II

In our earlier article we brought you a first sample of old and recent gamification projects from around the globe tackling issues as diverse as dog poop, fiscal discipline, safe driving, and participatory budgeting. In the second part of this overview we present a surprising champion of gamification – the Dubai Police, with brief stops in Hawaii and Australia, for more innovative applications of game mechanisms in the public sector.


Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti…you name it, they have it. The Dubai Police is famous for its fantastic supercar fleet. What may be less well-known, is that it is also a mobile game developer boasting more than 10 million downloads, notably of its free Supercars Rally app. It allows users to test drive the 16 Dubai Police supercars in a race around the city and to experience the extreme danger but also some of the perks of ‘one of the toughest jobs in the world’.

supercars 1We went through half a dozen uploads and trailers on youtube in search of the educational element in the car racing game, but could find none to share with you… Possibly the developers got so caught up in the fun, they forgot about slipping in an “awareness message”. Or else the whole point is to build trust by positive identification as players literally take the place of cop drivers behind the wheel.


“Electronic games are considered one of the best ways and means to contribute in spreading awareness.”

You may be surprised to find that the above quote is from a high-ranking police official rather than a game designer or gamification expert. Speaking at the GCC Social Media Summit 2015, Colonel Khalid Al Razooqi, head of Smart Services Department at Dubai Police, went on to say:

“At Dubai police we realised the importance to find an innovative method to enhance and support the traditional methods we employ to communicate with the community.

Therefore we use Gamification into different areas such as virtual training and electronic awareness campaigns to motivate people to carry out diverse activities that generally could not be too attractive.”

Dubai Police has a Virtual Applications Development Center which has developed a number of simulation training programs used in the Dubai Police Academy.

These include passenger screening at airport checkpoints, traffic accident investigations, and  SWAT 3D – “a multiplayer virtual environment in which the SWAT team is split into smaller units to bring a situation to order”.

SWATThe acronym stands for “Special Weapons and Tactics” and has come to mean “a group of highly trained police officers who deal with very dangerous criminals”


The same cutting-edge video game technologies are put to use in freely downloadable games intended to communicate awareness messages in a fun way and to promote and reinforce good habits and traditional UAE values. One long-lasting local tradition (and an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars) is camel racing, which incidentally has been associated with child trafficking and exploitation as many race organizers prefer to use child jockeys. A few years ago Dubai Police released the UAE Camel Racing app, targeted at children aged 6-9, and inviting them to: “learn about nutrition while eating healthy and unhealthy food as you race. Enter the camel academy and learn about camels in the UAE and then challenge yourself in a quizup to earn your place among the elites.”

UAE Camel Racing Android and iOS gameplay GamePlayTV YouTube

One can’t help but wonder how far a tech and social media savvy police force with seemingly unlimited resources might go with gamification but this will be the subject of a coming article, so stay tuned 🙂


Hawaii and ‘the only government website that loves you’

Hawaii.gov proclaims itself ‘the only government website that loves you’. In any case, it is certainly one of the few (as yet) government websites that know and use the fact that we love to play games. The Aloha State became a pioneer of gamification in the US with its award-winning platform, My.Hawaii.gov, developed in 2014 and which prides itself on being “the nation’s first attempt at gamifying government”.

The personalized online portal My.Hawaii.gov makes creative use of the classic triad of points, badges and leaderboards to encourage citizens to use online services and thus save time and resources. In the first half-year alone, the portal reportedly attracted 400,000 registered users and the adoption rate of online services went up 20%!

The portal welcomes users with a mobile-friendly personal dashboard that will be familiar from popular apps and social media:

Hawaii Personal Dashboard


On another personalized page called MySavings, registered users get badges displaying how much time they have saved NOT waiting in line or in traffic and how much paper they’ve saved through their online transactions. A community board displays the aggregate contributions and savings of all users.

Hawaii Mysavings


Says Sonny Bhagowalia, former CIO, Hawaii:

“Our view of gamification was to provide government services on the people’s terms and place government interactions on par with the way citizens conduct business in other areas of their lives. Gamification was a way for us to make government less intimidating and more accessible.

It has brought the people closer to government – their government – and that is a good thing.”


“Run That Town” in Australia

Run That Town – Think with Google(Image: source.)


How do you get people to participate in a census and understand why it matters? In 2013, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Leo Burnett Sydney proposed an innovative solution – invite them to play with the data and have fun with a game!

Soon after the release of the mobile game, Andy DiLallo, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett Sydney, was quoted as saying:

“The response so far to Run That Town has been overwhelmingly positive. People are finding a game about statistics fun and surprisingly addictive. And they’re discovering more about their local area as well. The great thing about this project is we’re not just telling people about the data – we’re giving them a chance to use it for themselves. It’s an innovative way to make those numbers really mean something to the people using them, and to get the community more involved in Census data.”

Run That Town YouTube

The mobile game uses real postal areas and 2011 Census data. It lets players take control of any neighbourhood in Australia and implement various projects of their choice while maintaining their popularity. Public opinion in their suburb is shaped by real Census data on the respective locality and population (including gender, employment, education, income, age, transport and home ownership). Depending on their savvy use of the data, the self-appointed mayors may be “showered with praise, or chased out of town by an angry mob”.

According to Leo Burnett Sydney, “In just two months, this game has turned more than 60,000 Australians into data fans, actively playing with and talking about the statistics of their local area. The fact that a government department has chosen such an innovative way to engage everyday Australians has become a story in its own right, with Run That Town featured on news, entertainment and gaming sites.”

The ABS “Run That Town” won a Gold Lion for Creative Data at the 2015 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.


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