Think back to a time in your childhood when you played a big game or challenge with other kids your age: scavenger hunts, team sports, casual recess games, chess tournaments.
You may have some negative memories, like getting picked last for kickball, or clumsily taking a hockey puck to the face.
But in the best-case scenario, you solved problems as a team, persisted against challenges, and found meaning in a shared activity — even if it was just for a 45-minute P.E. class.
When Gouveia was a kid himself, his community in Brazil played a game called gincana, where a whole town or city was invited to play in a series of challenges, with teams of 500 or 600 people coming together to find solutions to silly, impossible missions — like procuring a real-life pink elephant.
“We did it together,” he told NPR in an interview. It’s kind of collective intelligence … a brainstorm the size of a city. Even if you lost, you couldn’t believe these groups actually brought real elephants to your town. As a boy, I witnessed the creative potential we have to solve anything.”
Gouveia has taken that energetic, communal problem-solving and fueled his nonprofit, Livelab, a social innovation organization that develops collaborative games to make positive change in the world.
“Through games and playful activities, we create a field of trust, of safety, of love and empathy,” he told NPR. “When you create abundance of connection, abundance of possibility, people sense it right away.”
Livelab is currently running a game campaign called Jordana X, which in English means “X Journey.” The goal is to encourage young people to save the planet one block at a time. This could mean planting a block of trees, starting a community garden, restoring a neighborhood ecosystem — you name it.
The challenge starts with a Matrix-style video with a call-to-action, essentially explaining the climate crisis and how a group of young kids can awaken their superpowers and save the world.
The catch is that, in order to unlock that superhero potential, participants have to call upon at least three more friends to form a team.
Once they assemble their squad and sign up for the challenge, young people start receiving “missions” that ask questions about what needs fixing in a neighborhood. By the end of seven weeks of missions, the team has to find a solution and begin building it with their community.
This encourages an even farther ripple effect, as young people need to find allies in their neighborhoods to complete their challenges, mobilizing adults and experts to take meaningful action.
“When the community sees kids healing their neighborhood, they come together and say, ‘there’s something meaningful here. We need to be part of it. We’ve been waiting for the government or companies to support us, but we are the people who can act to restore our neighborhood,’” Gouveia continues in the NPR interview.
He takes inspiration from giant global events like the Olympics or The World Cup, watching people come together in pursuit of something “fast, free, fun, and fantastic.”
Gouveia launched Jordana X first as a pilot program, which began with 50 youth participants, and over the course of six months, expanded to 40 hands-on actions across 15 communities, mobilizing over 1,000 people.
And he has confidence that it will continue to catch on. The challenges have been rolled out in Brazil and 15 other countries, and he has his sights set on going global.
“Well, kids play war games all the time,” he explains in the interview. “They collaborate to kill people. It's not that they like death, but they want to have this kind of adrenaline. What could be more exciting? My answer is saving the planet in a way that adults haven't been able to.”
Aside from Jordana X, Livelab has also fostered challenges dedicated to improving mental health and belonging in Brazilian school communities, fighting food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, preserving waterways across the country, and more. Livelab’s website calls them “radical journeys of protagonism.”
The task is to gamify some of the biggest social, political, and environmental challenges; to make problem-solving fun.
“By belonging to a group that we love and that’s doing good in the world, these are ways of energizing our collective power, our collective meaning,” Gouveia told NPR. “By playing the game, we strengthen our personal and collective portions of confidence, joy, and willingness to do good.”