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Empire Avenue: Navigating The Moral Maze

Does Your Moral Compass Need a Work-out?

How many times a day do you find yourself making moral decisions? I am guessing that, for most of us, the answer is not very many. Empire Avenue , on the other hand, challenges us to break several commandents: the ones about not taking the Lord’s name in vain (no shrieks of ‘OMG!’); remembering the sabbath day (most of us cheerfully play on a Sunday); not coveting thy neighbour’s ox, his ass (or his Empire Avenue score); not bearing false witness (how many of us routinely give Ks to people who don’t influence us at all?); and- perhaps most seriously- not stealing. (Not you, not me, but some people do simply take the money from missions without doing what is asked of them).

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 energy to help someone you know online?
  • Are you your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper?

When you have played for a while, on a consistent basis, you will either have strengthened your will power to do good and resist evil, or you will truly know yourself as someone who all too readily gives in to temptation. Are you up for the challenge?


What is Empire Avenue?

Empire Avenue is a  means of measuring one’s involvement in social media (twitter, facebook etc). It is also a game in which users buy and sell shares in people, using an imaginary currency. The first part of this blogpost, explaining about Empire Avenue for those who are not already signed up,  was on Digidisciple on 5 June. 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.”


Metaphor for Life Itself

Empire Avenue reminds me, more than anything, of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. A motley group of people, who find themselves travelling together along the road of life, fall into conversation, form friendships and band together in small groups to talk and laugh and make music together.  It is impossible to imagine assembling a more diverse range of people: young and old, tall and short, fat and thin; of all races and creeds; and living in every habitable part of the world.


EAv was set up less than two years ago. I imagine that its founders did not predict the way it would become a force for good in the world. It’s the old story about the total being greater than the sum of its parts. Although there are forums on Empire Avenue itself, most of the conversation about the way this hugely diverse network operates and can be used for good takes place on Facebook.

Just in the last month, I have become involved in dicussions about how to spread awareness of environmental problems, a bid to save whales, a planned and co-ordinated system of random acts of kindness, the dangerous side-effects of Diethylstilbestrol, and female genital mutilation and forced marriage. These are all concerns of people I know on Empire Avenue, and since they concern them, they concern me. It is personal involvement. Truly this is the global village at work in a way Marshall McLuhan could scarcely imagine.



The photograph below depicts the rehearsal of  Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’; downloaded from wikimedia under licence.

21 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Laura, thanks for your insight into Empire Avenue.

Unfortunately, I haven’t really got a penchant or the patience for this type of SM application, I gave up on things such as Klout long since. Although I deleted my profile, they continue to maintain it and email me. Which is something that I dislike about these apps.

However, I can see how your membership of Empire Avenue has inspired your questioning – which must be a good thing. But, answering moral questions daily is I think something we do almost in unconsciously, because as Christians we (hopefully) had grown to become more Christlike, when such decisions become second nature.

I see that some, more difficult decisions might take more effort, thought, consideration and prayer, especially prayer. I sometimes feel angst about some of the things that go on in the world, which are immoral, and which I know that my just living a comfortable western lifestyle, contributes to, such as poverty, exploitation of the world’s resources and so on. The very fact that I have shelter, sufficient food, water and resources, when millions of others don’t is uncomfortable. Do I make the moral decision to stop living my way, or do I make a pragmatic decision that these things are outwith my control, but seek ways of alleviating the damage I do by just existing?

The bigger moral questions that you are engaging with through Empire Avenue, engage me as well at an individual level, I suppose that I could be more involved, but at the moment, just feel to tired to take on another cause – perhaps I’m still getting over the exhaustion of BAP and it’s ramifications for not just me, but for my spouse as well. One plan dissipated, another way forward to be sought, which is proving remarkably hard to discern.

21 June 2012 06:13
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, E. You are in good company with many of my Church friends, who have also tried Empire Avenue and then given up on it, very possibly because they didn’t have enough time to devote to it (I probably spend an hour a day). My main reason for doing so is the wide range of people it gives me access to – same as twitter and facebook but in a more concentrated way.
And I suppose my engagement with Empire Avenue and this website are my main reason for getting up in the morning!
But our circumstances are different and I can see you are in a sense looking for a new reason to get up in the morning, still to do with serving God. It is difficult to know how to help, but if I might help as a sounding board to bounce ideas off, I am of course here for you. Still praying for you, as are your many other friends and colleagues. [‘]

21 June 2012 07:26
Alan said...

Empire Avenue really is an amazing congregation of bloggers, gamers and social networkers. And I think you are quite right that Empire Avenue (as well as all of the web sites it tracks) offers up a truly endless series of moral questions. I tend to think that there are not right or wrong answers, and that each question must be approached in and of itself. It certainly has enabled me to meet some incredible people, even if my score will never top the leader boards.

Laura Sykes said...

I think Empire Avenue is the answer to ‘Where’s the beef?’. Klout, Peer Index, Kred and the other sites that measure your social media input seem much more one-dimensional. Empire Avenue is the meat-and-potatoes of social media?
Thanks for commenting.

21 June 2012 09:40
21 June 2012 09:33
DES Daughter said...

Fantastic post Laura. Thank you for giving us a fresh and different approach from the traditional one: “how to play on EA”, “how to build your klout score”, “how to become an awesome influencer” spread by some self proclaimed EA Gurus… Did they (EA Gurus) ‘break’ some ethics? Big time for some of them to my opinion… thanks again 🙂
EAv: (e)DESdaughter + (e)DOMINOcean

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Dom. If I may say so, I see you as one of the mentor seagulls! You say very clearly on your mission pages that your interest in EAv is to engage with other people and to help them. I don’t know whether you set out with a moral mission as such (and it really does not matter) but the fact is that you are leading the way and showing others how Empire Avenue is more than just an egocentric numbers game. Mes hommages!

Alan said...

I would just add a Hear, hear to Laura’s comment. Dom really rocks.

21 June 2012 09:59
Ruth said...

me too, hear hear!

26 July 2012 14:04
21 June 2012 09:54
21 June 2012 09:42
Harold Gardner said...

The intriguing ethical issue that I have experienced with EA is accepting a mission, usually a retweet, that asks me to share or endorse something that I really disagree with. There is no way to undo the mission or give the eaves back; so I personally just execute a moral hazard exception.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank you for commenting, Harold. I found this a real problem early on. Now I am extremely cautious before accepting a mission to retweet (as you will realise you can click the ‘dummy link’ to see what you are letting yourself in for). I do this unless I know the person well enough to know that I will not be asked to do anything objectionable. It does take a little longer because you then have to click the real link as well in order to get the eaves. If you are taken to a blog for comment, the difficulty then arises if you can only write something critical and still be honest…

Joyce said...

This is the first I’ve ever heard of Empire Avenue so I’m not very sure of what’s being talked about. It appears to require some equipment I’ve not got yet,plus the need to learn an extensive additional vocabulary.However,I think one of the moral-decision issues addressed so clearly by UKViewer would be comprehensible wherever it’d been brought up.It never crosses my mind that by my way of living I’m contributing to anybody else’s poverty or lack so I have been thinking about it. I’ve concluded that I don’t rob anyone.I hesitate to use the word ‘myth’ because in a religious sense it does not mean a widely-held wrong idea, but I don’t believe the ‘myth’ that we are starving other people to feed ourselves. Wherever we live we are expected to pay for what we have.If we can’t pay we can’t have it.
Adults in this country all work – or have worked in the past and are being subsidised by fellow taxpayers who still work – for our money,however much or little it is. All too often we in the west wrongly apply our conscience about this.The truth is we would all find ourselves without water,shelter,fuel and food if we did not buy them, and some who can’t pay for them really do go without. If ever we buy goods imported from a poor part of the world we are giving our business to people in those countries,which is what they need. Charities use our donations to encourage and help people in the third world to start small businesses to export to our markets. It’s a wonderful aim on the ‘give a man a fishing-rod’ principle.The only thing wrong then is, after promising them support,to turn round and refuse to buy something only on the grounds that it’s travelled too many miles !! That is hypocrisy of a dreadful kind.It drives me crackers.
We in so-called ‘rich’ countries suffer poverty in our own way if nobody buys from whatever business we run or work for.
If a country is torn apart by civil war or by invasion so that the general population has to abandon crops unharvested in the fields and leave livestock untended and then suffer blockades that mean aid can’t get through,it is not caused by our use of the microwave or our milkman’s use of his van.As a nation we send all the help we can when whoever is in charge of that country asks or allows us,even to the extent of putting in danger the lives of our own serving men and women.
If there’s a drought or natural disaster the public responds in a massive way to pay for aid.We should feel guilty only if we are genuinely taking something away from someone needy,not because we have more. We all sin enough without accusing ourselves of robbing the poor or the even poorer.
There’s a saying,’Before you sit down to a feast, make sure your neighbour isn’t hungry.’That is fair and reasonable. When you are not putting a poorer family’s food on your own table, and giving what you can when you can, don’t be ashamed of paying your bills.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for commenting, Joyce. Empire Avenue doesn’t require any special kit, other than a computer and internet connection. It helps to be connected to Facebook, but it is not essential. Luckily the only ‘money’ involved is imaginary currency. I currently have 36 million of these units in the bank! But it has taken me a year. And it is just of academic interest as I can only use the (much smaller) amount of money in my ‘current account’.

But I understand your more general point that, if you pay your taxes, you need not feel guilty if others have less than you.

Joyce said...

I didn’t realise I’d said that about taxes, Laura.I didn’t intend to. I’ll read it through later and see where it needs editing. It would be an interesting point though and I’m thinking about it.
In the UK many people have to pay little or no tax at all. Apart from the VAT on my utilities I must admit I don’t pay much myself.
I can’t see that whether we are well-off enough to pay tax or not has anything to do with the currently popular idea that living our everyday life is depriving others of resources.

25 June 2012 08:35
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for clarifying.

25 June 2012 10:21
Joyce said...

I think I might need to move part of a sentence in the first post in order to clarify. How do I do it ? I can’t see an edit button.

25 June 2012 12:35
24 June 2012 20:12
24 June 2012 15:07
23 June 2012 17:35
23 June 2012 14:33
Gaye Crispin said...

Hi Laura,

What a fabulous article and topic. It’s an interesting discussion re the ethical choices we make and how difficult it is to be a purist and live and move ‘normally’ within our society.

I love how your article highlighted the very social needs of the human being. And how, despite social and cultural diversity, we (as as species) will find a way to meet our needs. Even online! Fantastic read!

Love and hugs Laura 🙂

Lay Anglicana said...

‘How difficult it is to be a purist’ – Gaye, you hit the nail on the head with this – it should be the sub-heading. My own worst offence against my better nature is giving people whom I know little about Ks for subjects I know nothing about! I justify this to myself by saying that I am fed up with Klout for various reasons (one of which is that it is impossible to opt out of – if you are active on social media, you have a score, regardless of whether or not you have joined Klout). Therefore they deserve no better. But at the same time as I am justifying this to myself (the eaves are so easily won for giving Ks!) I do sort of know it is dishonest. Yet I continue to do it. Mea culpa!

Gaye Crispin said...

Hi Laura,

I struggled (and probably still do) with the whole giving +K to people I barely know.

I don’t know most people personally who I +K.

Those I +K most are people I am comfortable with or who have been pleasant.

So I guess I am more inclined to bestow +K upon people I enjoy, like, feel comfortable with, have an easy-going pleasant time with online.

If I had to use my +K on people I’ve actually done business with online I would have barely anyone to give +K too.

Perhaps I may need to add a badge on my klout profile which says I give +K to people who have positively impacted on me and who brighten my days. I also always like to give +K to Oliver at Broader Volunteers because I love their work.

and I love your work for gender equity in the church Laura….

want some +K tomorrow .. you always brighten my day.. Gaye xx 🙂

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Gaye 🙂
I don’t think Klout intend it to work like this but I agree, the people I give +K to are the ones who I regard as my friends. Part of the Empire Avenue ethos – hopefully the most important part, and you and Dominique (DES) have done so much to promote this – is the formation of relationships and subsequent lifting each other up. I do usually leave EAv smiling at some encounter or other – and haven’t come across any trolls yet!

01 July 2012 08:49
27 June 2012 16:47
27 June 2012 13:33
27 June 2012 07:29
Ruth said...

Loved this EA focus, Laura. It’s a refreshing perspective and focuses on the layers of Empire Avenue I find more intriguing. I’ve found that sometimes, you just have to decide who/what you’ll support and try not to waver. It can narrow the playing field but it’s worthwhile. I just appreciate the chance to get to know people, especially the ones like you who really think and feel their way through the issues that matter. Great post…

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you so much for commenting – and for tweeting! I do think it is rather extraordinary that, of all the places that I ‘meet’ people online, for some reason I have a more three-dimensional picture of the people that I know through Empire Avenue. This is despite the fact that we all want to chat about EAv on Facebook, rather than EAv itself. Perhaps this is because our little chat group via DD is small. On the other hand, I feel that way even about the people I know through the larger EAv/Facebook groups. At any rate, I do appreciate having met you (and I would probably never have found you just via twitter?)

26 July 2012 14:52
26 July 2012 14:10

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