Monday, July 2, 2007

Tapping The Gamer Brain

Academics, politicians, lawyers, psychologists, and marketers are beginning to recognize a vast untapped resource: the wisdom of gamers.

A new videogame, created in part for the Government Accountability Office and due out next year, uses online "cards" to help players balance the U.S. budget - like Pokemon for bureaucrats. The hope is that players will learn more about big government and vice versa.
"We're really interested in what happens when you throw a lot of brain-power at complex issues like this," says David Rejeski, director of the Serious Games Initiative.

The largest online games are home to millions of joystick-toting problem solvers. What if you asked them to take on problems bigger than, say, killing orks? At a 2004 conference, Sony's Raphael Koster challenged programmers to leverage players' knowledge to find intelligent life in space. Stanford's Byron Reeves, using video clips of medical samples, had players of Star Wars Galaxies diagnose cancer to advance their standings as "doctors." After 20 hours of training, players got it right 60% as often as a pathologist; 35 of the best players, on average, actually beat the pro.

The Wisdom of Crowds author James Surowiecki perks up at the notion of getting gamers to solve complex problems. "Games are an entertaining way to get people to do labor for you," he says. And gamers, coming from diverse backgrounds, can spark unconventional solutions. "There are certain fundamental assumptions that experts agree upon," Surowiecki says. "Amateurs or outsiders don't have those assumptions."

Of course, tapping this talent requires motivating them to participate. "You've got to have something that connects to people's lives in an imaginative way," says Henry Jenkins, director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program. While best-selling games such as SimCity and Railroad Tycoon simulate real-world environments, a game about drilling for oil or predicting the weather would have to be far more sophisticated, perhaps integrating real-world data in real time. "It's an exciting idea," says Jenkins. "Technically, it's doable, but no one has done it yet."

From Fast Company

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