Thursday, November 10, 2011

Geography Awareness Week & GIS Day

Yes, it's that time of the year again and we have an exciting series of events at OSU for GAW this year! We will be presenting some of our game ideas to the larger OSU community during the Geography & GIS Fair on Nov. 15, 11am-1pm in the Ohio Union. Same afternoon there's an open house at BRPC, really cool (I know, bad joke)! We also have a playful Geography Treasure Hunt where anyone can join in a real-world treasure hunting game using GPS to locate clues hidden around campus. Teams of 3-4 participants race through campus to find all the caches on their route. The fastest team wins the grand prize! Finally the event is capped by the presentation "Through the Macroscope: Geography’s View of the World" delivered by AGS President, Dr. Jerome Dobson. I am particularly looking forward to this presentation since the title reminds me of Katy Börner's excellent (admittedly a bit technical) overview of emerging tools to understand the "infinitely complex". GIS, simulation environments (yes, games too!), mining of massively crowd-sourced data are all examples of such tools. In Katy's words: "Rather than make things larger [like a microscope] or smaller [like a telescope], macroscopes let us observe what is at once too great, slow, or complex for the human eye and mind to notice and comprehend."
A related essay by Neil Savage illustrate the growing possibilities for social scientist to tap into massive data sets on human individual behavior, decisions, etc. Twitter is by no means the perfect source for this type of data but it is one of the first to emerge in what can be expected to become a flood of auto-generated, spatially coded, and personally tagged information. Understanding these data flows is critical to its proper use and also for developing alternative, even better data streams. Visual analytics provide one macroscope onto these data flows and can provide stunningly complex and still comprehensive perspectives of seemingly chaotic data.

The Truthy tool shows a graphical representation of how a Tweet propagates, with retweets in blue and topic mentions in orange. Tweets that are sent back and forth between two Twitter accounts appear as a thick blue bar. Source: Savage, 2011, Credit:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Games vs. Reality - is there a difference?

Many times when I speak about our ideas to use Online Map Games as a way to simulate spatial planning and policy scenarios, people object that even if we can get people to use these simulations and act out decisions, they would still only be 'games' and not the real thing. but what is the 'reality' these days. Most spatial planning is carried out through a GIS, using remote sensing information, at a distance, and in front of a computer. I am not saying that this is all good, but it is happening. In the light of that there is a pretty good reason to think that a simulation carried out in a similar environment - using a computer, online maps, remote collaboration - can give us a pretty good idea of what the real thing would look like.

NPR today started an investigation into the revelation of Stuxnet and the issue of Cyber-Security. their report provides a captivating story of how a facility such as a power plant, where most operations are entirely controlled by computers, gets 'infected' by a computer worm that allows a remote villain to take over the role of the control room. Sounds like a script from a movie, but the Stuxnet incident, which allegedly infected an Iranian nuclear facility and destroyed, is a very real prospect. The NPR story illustrates how training for similar attacks can be conducted through simulations, essentially computer games, that replicate the setting of a computer based control room where operators are trying to fend off an attack by the enemy team, located in another room and who essentially just takes over control after infesting the control room computer systems.

As computer games become more realistic, our reality becomes more like a computer game. Augmented reality games already blend reality with gaming such that a make-believe world is implpanted into reality and is as real as it gets for the participants and even to bystanders. It is now hard to draw a line between reality and games.