Friday, January 6, 2012

GIS + Games = GeoDesign

Rambles playing board. Source: Library of Congress
With the GeoDesign 2012 meeting underway I find it timely to bring in some reflections on how GeoGames = GIS + Games can bring some solutions to the GeoDesign table. Much of this is drawn from a longer article in the journal Cartography and Geographic Information Science.

According to Ahmed Abukhater of ESRI and Doug Walker of Placeways (2010) The GeoDesign framework includes at least four elements; Sketching of potential plans and designs, Spatial models that can simulate impacts of proposed designs, Rapid feedback on the effects of any proposed/sketched design, and Iteration through several alternative designs. A combination of GIS, cartographic, and design software could probably deliver this functionality but it would be a hard task to integrate all three.

Some game software, on the other hand, already integrate all four of the GeoDesign elements. The game-map editors with typed libraries of objects support the sketching and spatial modeling of elements, constructed maps can immediately be tested by players and provide rapid feedback on any suggested edits, and alternative worlds can easily be saved and tested separately to allow for iteration through alternative designs. In addition to this, many game platforms also support massive multi-player support that can open for broad public participatory approaches.

Cartography has not elaborated that much on maps and map-making of entirely imaginary worlds, despite some early recognition of a more design-oriented cartography in the analytical cartography literature during the 80s and 90s (see e.g. Moellering 1980; Nyerges 1991). But despite the emergence of Geovisualization, digital landscape modeling for scenario-building was mostly found in the landscape architecture and environmental planning fields. Also, cartographers and landscape architects have somehow approached design from an expert-oriented perspective, rarely putting people in the middle of the process, nor tapping fully into the energy and creativity of an engaged public. VGI has been a radical shift in this direction but existing geospatial platforms still seems to be lacking in ability to leverage that power.

In contrast, the online gaming communities are in many ways founded on a people-centered approach, with wikis for sharing experiences and tips, social knowledge construction as a central process, and open platforms for user contributions to code and design ideas. These social and technological infrastructures that support online gaming could very well be tapped into by GeoDesigners by switching out the virtual game worlds for real worlds using existing spatial data. Some of the concerns around VGI not being authoritative also becomes moot when we consider it for future visions. Who is to judge what is the right vision for the future? We all have a stake, and forming that vision together globally will be very powerful.