Using Massive Multiplayer Games to Playsource Crisis Information

This blog sequel follows this one on Netsourcing, Crowdsourcing and Turksourcing. This new round of thinking is inspired by a recent dinner conversation (that made it to the New York Times!) with Riley Crane, Omar Wasow, Anand Giridharadas, and Jen Brea. If the ideas below seem a little off the wall, the bottle of Kirsch I brought over for the Swiss fondue is to blame. Some parts of this post were were also inspired by The Polymath Project and conversations with Kuang Chen, Abraham Flaxman and Rob Munro during the Symposium on Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI-D) at Stanford University.

I wonder how many indoor cycling bikes exist in the world, or at least in the US. The number may in part be a function of the number of gyms. In any event, to borrow the language of Douglas Adams, the number must be “vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big,” especially the total number of hours spent on these bikes everyday in California alone. I’ve often wondered how much energy these machines generate when used; enough to recharge my iPhone? Hundreds of iPhones?  Why do I ask?

I’ve been thinking about the number of hours that gamers spend playing computer games in the US. Hundreds of thousands hours? I’m not quite sure what the correct order of magnitude is, but I do know the number is increasing. So how does the cycling analogy come in? Simple: how can we harness the millions of hours spent playing computer games every year to turksource crisis information? Could real world information be subtly fed into these games when necessary to process Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) that would help tag and/or geolocate crisis information? Can we think of mobile games akin to FourSquare that could generate collective action around HITs?

In other words, what is the game equivalent of reCAPTCHA for turksourcing crisis information? Remember the computer game “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Could a cross between that type of learning game, a treasure hunt and “The DaVinci Code” get gamers hooked? I’m probably thinking way too old school here. Perhaps taking the most popular games today and subtly embed some HITs is the way to go. As mentioned in my previous blog post, one of the most time consuming and human resource intensive tasks that volunteers carried out during the first weeks of Ushahidi-Haiti was the manual, near real-time geo-location of unfolding events.

So how about adding a fun gaming user interface to OpenStreetMap? Like any good game, a user would be able to specify a difficulty level. Making a mobile UI would also come in handy when tourists are abroad and want to help geolocate. You’ve heard of eco-tourism, welcome to geo-tourism. Maybe Lonely Planet or Rough Guides could partner on such a project. Or, as happened in Haiti, geo-coding was also crowdsourced thanks to the pro-active Haitian volunteers of Mission 4636 who were far quicker at tagging than student volunteers. But what happens if the only volunteers around are not country experts or familiar with satellite imagery? Is there a way to use a Mechanical Turk Service approach to greatly simplify this geocoding process?

Maybe the day will come when kids whose parents tell them to get off their computer game to do their homework will turn around and say: “But Mom, I’m learning about the geography of Mozambique, which is what my quiz is on tomorrow, and I’m playsourcing crisis information to save lives at the same time!”

Patrick Philippe Meier

12 responses to “Using Massive Multiplayer Games to Playsource Crisis Information

  1. Hi Patrick,

    Interesting idea. Here is another.

    Why not harness the power of the mass in the effected area? Using local knowledge and helping people out financially in the same time might be a major improvement for both crisismanagement effectiveness and helping local peoples needs. Take a look at txtEagle: mobile crowdsourcing, by Nathan Eagle at MIT media lab.



    • Hi Maarten, yes, I’ve certainly been aware of Nathan’s work for a while now and was just talking to him in person earlier this week at Stanford. If you read my previous post, you’ll see that I link to Nathan. In Haiti, we are already working with Crowdflower and Samasource in Haiti to do just this. Keep in mind that harnessing the power of the mass in the effected area is not necessarily an immediate option for obvious reasons.

  2. First, if you’d like we can run through the treadmill/cycle calculation… I’m actually a little surprised that Riley didn’t offer to do it on the back of a napkin- is he not a Mechanical Engineer too?

    Second, excellent post. It’s frankly pretty weird the parallel tracks of thought that have been happening here. We have some thoughts that we percolated on this subject a couple months back, that we’ll be sharing with you this afternoon.

    I’ll address the rest of your points offline.


  3. These sites may be of interest to this discussion:

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