Empire Avenue: The Moral Maze of Social Media

Empire Avenue logo

What is Empire Avenue?

Empire Avenue is a  game launched  in July 2010, in which users buy and sell shares in people, using an imaginary currency. You can read more about how it works here, but its strap line is ‘Expand, engage, evaluate‘. I find it a far more multi-dimensional tool than Klout, Peer Index or any of the other evaluation sites for monitoring my use of social media.

The rather fatuous expression on the face of the man in the illustration hints that it is possible to ‘play’ this ‘game’ in a totally egocentric way. But, like life itself, it is as multi-layered as an onion. You may begin by assuming that it parallels a commodities market, with people instead of commodities. People exchange  mathematical formulae on Facebook for ways of dealing, no doubt feeling they have unlocked the key. All goes well for a while, but those who play like this reach a plateau from which they find they cannot escape if they simply continue to play the game the same way. Many simply drop out at this stage.

The key is in ‘Expand, engage, evaluate': you will not continue to expand unless you constantly evaluate what you are doing and engage with other people. Each progression involves increasing your interaction with others. At its most basic level, saying ‘thank-you’ and ‘well done’ to others, commenting on their blogs and doing their ‘missions’ will increase your overall score.

Only the most basic rules are given. It is rather like learning how to play chess simply by being told the moves of the various pieces. Did you read Richard Bach’s ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull‘? He found there was no readily available set of rules, but that each apparent impasse contained its own way through.  Empire Avenue is a game that nudges you to ‘fly’, that is to say make a leap of logic, imagination or faith which will take you to the next level. Here are some hints from our seagull mentor:

“Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again…For most gulls it was not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight… Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding. Find out what you already know and you will see the way to fly.”

As you play the game, you will be posed a series of moral questions, not once but repeatedly:

  • What are you prepared – and what are you not prepared – to do for money?
  • Would you buy shares in someone just because they offered high dividends – in other words do you treat people as means to an end or an end in themselves?
  • Will you be generous with your time and effort to help someone you know online?
  • Are you your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper?

Why Would a Christian Participate?

The short answer is that Christians are also people, and it is fun. But I take the question to mean ‘what are the opportunities for personal growth as a Christian and for mission and evangelism’?

Well, we live in an era when non-Christians tend to regard Christians as (exaggeration, I know) a bunch of people who think that the world was created in just one week of man-made time, and that humans co-existed with dinosaurs. Also, there is a widespread perception that Christians are intolerant of the religious views of anyone else. In this climate, it is more than ever important  to mix with non-Christians and simply demonstrate through daily contact that many Christians believe in Darwinism and Christianity, and are open to discussion with those of other faiths and none.

Anyone who follows Twitter or Facebook will have noticed the real spiritual hunger out there, people looking almost anywhere for spiritual fulfilment. Instead of bemoaning our inability to keep the churches full at services on Sunday, and instead of using social media as a small cosy group of like-minded people (a holy huddle online) perhaps social media should be our mission field?

About Laura Sykes