Hello, I’m Karen Schrier and excited to be speaking to you at the 10th Games for change conference.
And I’m here today to talk to you about the future of games, by bringing you back to the past-- to the 1980s. When I was in 6th grade and my best friend and I spent hours sneaking out at night, because she had just gotten a very exciting piece of technology.
It was a telescope.
So we were using this telescope to take photos and track the movement of stars over time and to look at constellations, like Cassiopeia.We were having a ton of fun together. And we had also become scientists.Little did we know that we were joining a long-standing tradition of amateur astronomy, a practice that has recently begun being called “citizen science.” Citizen science is nothing new. Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin and Charles Darwin were all considered “amateur scientists” at the time.
In fact, most astronomy discoveries are made by amateurs, such as by those members of the AAVSO (or the American Association of Variable Star Observers). Over the past 100 years since its founding, members of the American Association of Variable Star Observers have made over 23 million observations, accounting for 1.67 million hours of observations and 27.5 million dollars of donated time.This is time spent learning about our universe that could never be handled by just one scientist.In the past, amateur scientists had to collect data on their own. But now you can join hundreds of people categorizing galaxies on a website called Galaxy Zoo.
In 2007, the creators of Galaxy Zoo found themselves with over 1 million images of galaxies.It would have taken years to classify these. But instead they opened up the classifications to the general public, and 70K were getting classified EVERY HOUR. Within the first year, they had classified over 50 million galaxies.And, recently, a number of games have incorporated this “categorization” mechanic and other scientific processes, into their games.
You can categorize bugs with Happy Moths
categorize birds for the Audubon society
and even collect data on gravesites.These games work, in part, because of the fact that no one person or team can handle all of this data. They also work because there are some puzzles that are best solved communally by humans, such as understanding protein structure puzzles in games such as Fold It.
So we’ve called these games citizen science games, because we enlist everyday citizens to help practice science and solve large-scale complex science mysteries.
But why not have citizen social science games.
What if we could solve complex social problems by enlisting citizen SOCIAL scientists?Why don’t we have games that could help solve problems by collaboratively “folding” social dilemmas questions and problems, or by categorizing evolving emotions or behaviors?
But it’s not just about collecting data on people. This data needs to be seen in action in a dynamic system. That’s where games come in. Data needs to be folded and manipulated in ways that only people can do.
In People Analytics, Ben Waber explains how real-time data from sources like email coupled with environmental sensor data, helped Cubist Pharmaceuticals changed the layout of their office.
They decided to centralize their coffee machines, which increased social interactions, and led to an increase in sales.While that’s all well and good that a pharmaceutical company was able to increase sales, what if we were able to recofigurethe “layout” of complex social structures and settings, such as schools, workplaces, families and online environments to help reduce depression?
Could a game help us understand the complexities of depression?
But it’s not just about understanding systems of data, games need to help us break the systems, in order to make it better.
Nate Silver showed us that we can use complex algorithms to predict voting behavior, such as in the 2012 presidential election, but how do we motivate the 57.5% of citizens that do not vote? And how do we optimize the accuracy of the votes we do collect? Could we use games to identify problems with possible online voting scenarios to create both a better system and encourage voter participation? Could a game not just teach us about voting, but accurately help us vote?
But it’s not just about breaking and reshaping complex systems, we need to use the systems in the game to take action.
As part of the Open Academic Analytics Initiative, some of my colleagues at Marist mined data to better predict which students were at risk for dropping out of college. Could we use games to not only identify which students could be at-risk, but to intervene appropriately?
And, going back to the depression example, could we use a game to (safely and appropriately) identify people at risk for depression, and then modify their game experience to help reduce their depression? [BREAK]I know that many of you have played and made “Earnest games”-- games that taught us about topics you care about, or about the type of change you want to make.
But what if the playing or making of the game itself could solve the problem you care about, or make the change you want to make?There are some inklings of this already happening.
In 2005, some biology researchers at Rutgers used World of Warcraft to help better simulate epidemics by looking at player response to a virtual blood plague created by Blizzard accidentally. This helped the researchers better model epidemics, shaping government policy and giving insight into our understanding of the social complexities of epidemics.
Likewise, The SUDAN game, out of USC’s GamePipe Lab, is an MMOG that invites participants to help simulate peace in the Sudan. Participants play as tribe members with different perspectives, and they need to figure out the proper sequence of events that could lead to peace among the tribes.
In my own research on Fable III, a role playing game, I looked at how participants made ethical decisions in the game. In one of the decisions, participants decided whether to drain a lake or maintain it. By looking at how the participants thought through the decision, we can better simulate policy and education related to environmental conservation.
So can we reallycreate Citizen Social Science Games? And if so, how do we create them?Here are some principles to guide us:
It should not be just about crowdsourcing social data, but our players should be acting like actual social scientists, practicing with authentic situations, tools, questions and scenarios. Galaxy Zoo works because participants are actually looking at real galaxies; Fold It works because people are folding simulated authentic protein structures. All of these players are acting like real scientists when they are doing what they are doing in the game.
Social data and stars are similar because they both change positions over time. We need to find ways to capture and recapture social data at different moments in time, and understand that even if you ask the same question twice, getting two different answers does not necessarily mean your data or systems are inaccurate.
Participants cannot contribute data in a bubble, instead, they need to be playing within a dynamic system. These games need to allow participants to work together to push the limits of, break apart, evaluate, and rethink the social systems of the game and the world it simulates.
And finally, game makers need to open up these games, not just to modding, but to make their data and their design decisions transparent and freely available so that we can all benefit from it, in appropriate, ethical ways. [BREAK] So let’s go back to the stars.
A telescope can bring us closer to seeing a star, but it’s the people that can help us understand it. A game may bring us closer to a problem, but ultimately, we need to solve it.
So can games help us all become amateur star gazers AND people gazers?
After all, says Carl Sagan, “we are star stuff.”
“We, humans, are the part of the universe that can observe itself” And, likewise, I believe that the Games for Change community should be the part of the game universe that can observe itself.
I hope that you will join me in making change through Citizen Social Science Games. Thank you.
Light wave graph for Epsilon AurigaeCitizen “Social Science” Games
Greg Newman, Andrea Wiggins, Alycia Crall, Eric Graham, Sarah Newman, and Kevin Crowston(2012). The future of citizen science: emerging technologies and shifting paradigms. Frontiers inEcology and the Environment 10: 298–304.Citizen “Social Science” Games
Seth Cooper, Firas Khatib, Adrien Treuille, Janos Barbero, Jeehyung Lee, MichaelBeenen, Andrew Leaver-Fay, David Baker, Zoran Popovid & Foldit players (2010) “Predictingprotein structures with a multiplayer online game,” Nature 466, 756–760.