Self-introduction and some thoughts on positive gamification methodology

This is my first blog post on gameful and I have to say I'm pretty excited. I watched both of Jane's TED talks and I believe she is onto something big. 

About myself: I am a game designer with about five years of experience in the industry. I have worked freelance and as a lead designer for some PC and console games (check my linkedin page for details). Eight years ago, I left the industry to become a professional poker player. That second career was quite successful as it has brought me financial success and a lot of freedom, but it has also left me somehow dissatisfied and without a real sense of purpose.

About 18 months ago, I was introduced me to Jane's book and conferences and it was like a revelation. I worked on a project for a few weeks and while it was eventually scrapped, it felt like I was born to do this: find a problem and build a game around it that generates the solution. 

In this first blog post I would like to share a few thoughts on game design methodology that would aim to have a positive outcome in the real world. 

Here's how I see things at the moment:

  • There are plenty of real world problems
  • A lot of them can be solved by analyzing the data that is at its core
  • Our increasingly interconnected world generates increasingly bigger, more precise data
  • Data exploration and classification can be turned into a game
  • Solving the data = solving the game = solving the problem

An example of that in Jane's book was how people analyzed a ton of scanned documents to uncover the corruption that plagued a portion of the british parliament.

I believe that approach can be systematized and applied to a lot of other problems. Here's how it would work:

  • Identify the kind of data we need
  • Collect it
  • Gamify it correctly
  • Watch as data unfolds and reveals its secrets
  • Solve the problem with that newfound information

Here's an example of an idea that I have had for quite some time and that could *potentially* resolve a very real problem.

Every year, several children disappear. They either flee from their homes or, much worse, they are abducted by child predators.

I like in the UK so I looked up http://missingkids.co.uk/ . While their website is reasonably well-made, it fails at providing an incentive for people to get actively engaged (besides just "trying to help"). Regular people feel powerless with this problem. Of course, the police is actively searching for these kids, but their resources are scarce. 

This is where gamification comes in. As Jane has said, games can empower people. 

Now that we have a problem, what kind of data do we need that would help solve it?

The UK has a very wide CCTV system (street cameras) that record hours and hours of video. These kids are very likely to appear somewhere but when can the police find the time to comb through the nation's whole CCTV archives in order to trace their shortcomings?

Gamers have that kind of time.

New problem: watching video surveillance is BORING. There is no way we are going to spend valuable hours sitting through videos of people on the street. Unless we make a game out of it.

Here's how it could work:

  • Step 1: collect all CCTV data and other relevant video files (private security cameras from stores around the areas where the kids have disappeared)
  • Step 2: design image processing algorithms to isolate the type of data we are looking for, such as:
    • adults walking hand-in-hand with a child
    • children walking alone
    • children wearing the type of clothing (color, logos, shapes) that missing kids were wearing at the time of their disappearance
    • children faces and morphology whenever applicable
  • Step 3: design a game where players actively and collaboratively look for these signs. It would probably be a matching kind of game where we would have to compare that data to what we know about the kid's disappearance. Such as:
    • Does that look like a missing kid's face?
    • Is this child wearing the same clothes as one who disappeared?
    • We would assign a probability to these findings. How closely does it look like that kid?
    • Of course, we would assign points and rewards for each finding, but since we don't want people to interpret every clue just so they can be rewarded (that would lead to false data), we would reward players collectively for agreeing that this looks like a missing kid. The more people agree, the bigger the reward.
  • Step 4: we should now have a web of disconnected clues that gamers have found. A lot of them will be meaningless, just regular kids playing on the street or walking by with their parents. We can now compare these with more clues that the police already have: time of disappearance, distance from the home, etc.
  • Step 5: once we have enough connected data that looks like we have a sighting of a missing kid, report it to the poilice and let them do what they do well: interpret clues and find people.

I know there are many challenges with this idea. Could we recover all that data legqally? And process it the way I describe? I am a game designer, I wouldn't know if that works or how to do it, but there are people out there who are experts of image processing. Maybe they can see a way to make this work. 

Anyway, this is one of many ideas that I have that revolve around the same principle: find a problem, identify data, crowdsource its processing and look for clues that lead to a resolution.

I hope you enjoyed reading my first blog on gameful and welcome any comments or suggestions!

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Comment by Manuel Bevand on August 19, 2013 at 9:17pm

Thanks a lot Jane for the comment!

I appreciate that video surveillance is a tricky subject but there are ways, like the ones you are suggesting, to make it safe for everyone:

  • we are looking for victims, not criminals. The system would only display images of children.
  • it would be easy to hide where the camera is, players don't need to know the actual location to identify faces or clothing
  • as far as libertarian sensibilities, I perfectly understand (i'm all for taking down CCTV) but these cameras are already there and as long as they are, I think there is little issue in trying to find a safe use for all this data

Comment by Jane McGonigal on August 13, 2013 at 10:16pm

I've been thinking about this kind of security game for about 10 years, actually. We were working on something at UC Berkeley in a telerobotics lab back in 2003 -- a collectively-controlled robotic web cam -- and since then I've thought this could be a fruitful application of gameful design. At the same time, we have to worry a little bit about the kind of thing we saw after the Boston Marathon bombings and the online self-appointed detectives misidentifying suspects based on security cam footage and then proceeding to make the suspects' family's lives quite nightmarish. I think this would only be a positive, productive pursuit if we spent considerable effort to create a do-no-harm mentality and to limit players' ability to follow up on leads -- by obscuring location of camera footage and other things like that. There's something about this idea that I'm sure will make a lot of people uncomfortable -- for example, if you have libertarian leanings or are reasonably freaked out by the recent NSA revelations, as I and many people are! -- I'd say pursuing this idea with the goal of avoiding an Orwellian nighmare would be important. That said, I'm not personally automatically opposed to the use of surveillance cameras or volunteers in this way... it both scares me a little and makes me want to try to figure out how to do it in a benevolent way.

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