posted 10 Nov 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 2
The real game begins
In part one of a series on knowledge ‘gaming’ using social currency, Jan Wyllie explores the concepts of ‘playing for real’ and algorithmic versus social intelligence
“’The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
`To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings.‘”
– Lewis Carroll
These kinds of word-relationship questions are at the heart of growing interest in the semantic web, linked data and enabling technologies, in what people are increasingly referring to as web 3.0. But as the quote implies, it would be dangerous to forget that language itself is a really great game.
In previous articles, I have argued that the current search and retrieval process based on algorithmic and semantic formulas, using usage (crowd sourced) popularity as an important determining factor lead to known and (worse) unknown distortions in search results. The fact that every search engine uses different algorithms to produce its results begs the question, which is better? Is it Autonomy or Google? I use Copernic because it uses everyone else’s results and preserves my anonymity.
Having been involved in the days of pure text retrieval, as a collaborator with Dr Tony Kent in Strix (one of the first programs to bring full text search to the PC), I can say there is no substitute for a basic understanding of what Boolean search does and how it works for an undistorted search relationship with a text database, which combined the value of a fielded structure with near instant key word retrieval using the classical ‘binary chop’. In this way of working, it was up to the skill and intelligence of the user to find and refine sets of results, rather than an algorithm, producing relevance rankings, according to black-box logics, which are completely inaccessible because they are commercial secrets. One chronic consequence is that internet search results cannot be sorted by date of publication.
I often think of all the trouble and money that would have been saved if generic text retrieval software and Boolean algebra had been made compulsory in schools during the 1980s… but “so it goes”, as Kurt Vonnegut quipped after every disaster leading up to the bombing of Dresden in Slaughterhouse Five.
This state of affairs was just about manageable, so long as information professionals had an element of control with their taxonomies and thesauri, which were applied as metadata when documents were published in a more or less orderly way. Now, with the explosion of social media, all semblances of control and professional standards have gone.
A new generation of semantic web tools, search engines and search engine optimisers (SEOs) have waded into these new oceans of social media data with their own commercial agendas and secret algorithms promising to produce meaningful infocologies from the info-chaos. Even the most fervent believers in this great semantic technology research project would not deny that it’s a big one – and a very expensive one, too. They would also have to admit that its realisation will take an unquantifiably long time and that currently there is no proof that the technology will work, when scaled up to internet size.
The thing about all varieties of social media is that it is the creation of the intelligence of its users who are learning how to write, to record and to curate themselves and have as a result created what could already be the world’s greatest knowledge resource. Everybody agrees that the name of the game is to find ways of tapping into the flow of social media data in order to extract meaning and intelligence.
Of course, running computer algorithms is not the only way of processing the data. People, as well as animals and plants, do it. Some form of knowledge organisation ability seems to be a natural function of consciousness. So why not use humans to do what they are good at, organising knowledge, for example, and use computers to do what they are good at which is storing, retrieving and counting data?
If people can do it, why don’t they, especially if they have taken all the trouble to write a blog or clip a key quote? From my years of experience in trying to entice groups of people to apply faceted taxonomies (classify things) consistently and reliably over time, the problem is not, by any means, that they can’t do it. It is much more that lose heart and stop doing it because they are lazy and easily bored with repetitive tasks, especially if they can’t see any practical benefits. Sadly for me, they simply were not willing to ‘talk of many [classes of] things’ because it was no fun and seemed pointless despite the promise of glorious future infocologies. They knew, as well as I did, the future never comes.
Enter serious games
“Life is a game, the first rule of which is that it is not a game.”
– Alan Watts
So until a few months ago, outside our special coterie of dedicated content analysts, that is the place where I had parked large groups collaborating using common taxonomies under ‘a pity’, somewhere between ‘good-idea’ and ‘another-missed-opportunity’.
Then the serious gaming phenomenon came into our scanning range. Since then, its significance rating in our social media collection has been growing faster than any other category. Also since then, I have fallen in with a diverse bunch of very serious gameifiers intent on using ‘game mechanics’ and ‘transmedia’ storytelling to change things in the real world. Their movement is loosely tied together through
In July, I read and reviewed Total Engagement for IK. The book is a superb rendition of the
Luckily, rule number one, when it comes to gaming, is that a game must be fun.
What if gaming could make both knowledge management (KM) and community currencies fun, as well as open to participation by the new generation of social mediarists?
So, the first need-to-know question is, what makes games fun?
No doubt many books have been written about this very question. And, as someone who stopped playing and following games of any kind many years ago, the best that can be said is that I come fresh and with an open mind to these kinds of questions. My research so far has identified the following reasons:
Mission – it is fun to be on a quest;
Narrative – it is fun to play a part in a story, especially if there are surprises;
Power – it is fun to play with special skills and powers;
Collaboration – it is fun to play in teams;
Role playing – it is fun (and liberating) to play as another entity (Avatar);
Competing – it is fun to play against other teams or virtual entities;
Winning – it is fun to beat other teams or virtual entities;
Rewards – it is fun to collect rewards for winning and prowess;
Reputation – it is fun to be seen as a deserving winner and powerful or knowledgeable person; and
Reflection – it is fun to chat about and learn from past triumphs and disasters.
The next question is, what is the role of rules in gaming?
All games have rules to play by. The second rule of gaming – after games must be fun – is that all rules are arbitrary and can be changed. On the other hand, if players do not play by the rules, they are either cheating, or they are not playing the game. It’s as simple as that. Rules are compulsory and there is no point playing if you do not intend to play by them (or to cheat).
Artificial worlds – these are rules which determine how the gaming environment works. For example, if a player’s Avatar moves over point X, an image of boiling oil Y will be poured on him in a way that makes the users’s experience as immersive as possible (pun intended); and
Real world – these rules govern what players are permitted or not permitted to do including reasons why. For example, a player only has two attempts at slaying a dragon, or a player with sword fighting powers can defeat spear carriers, seven out of ten times.
Another question is, what technologies make games work? Once again, a great deal of work has been done in what is called game mechanics. Since one of the elements of making a game fun is story, most or all games must start with a storyline which provides gamers with opportunities to become participants in the story and to influence its outcome by increasing their powers and by winning competitions. Game mechanics are constructed from collections of mainly software technologies:
Virtualisation – artificial or alternative worlds and more recently augmented reality software provide an increasingly immersive theatre in which games are played;
Multimedia databases – complete records and histories of game activities, along with libraries of useful knowledge are generally available to gamers. For example, the archives of the World of WarCraft (WoW) game are said to bigger than the archives of all the real wars since 1914; and
Measurement or metrics – virtually every move is counted and analysed, giving players real-time feedback on the success of their strategies and actions. Many multi-player games include economies and their own synthetic currencies.
The final question (for now) is, what role does ethics play in gaming? In the 1970s, academics pioneered business simulations as training tools for managers. The best facilitators knew that they had a serious duty of care for participants as they became emotionally engaged. A process known by some as the bird-on-the-shoulder also required facilitators to observe themselves particularly when giving feedback. The more realistic and powerful games are, the greater their psychological effect on the players must be – both for better or worse. These days, increasingly powerful virtualisation technology and players situated at remote locations (rather than gathered together in a posh hotel) can make the psychological dangers of gaming even more acute.
One aspect of the ethics involved concerns two distinct types of games:
Optional – if the game is no fun for them, people can pack up and leave without penalty or blemish to their reputation outside the game. Most games, like WoW, are of this nature, so ethics are part of the game. The nature of the game promotes a community ethics of cooperation, and respect for group ethical conventions. In this sense, optional games can therefore be powerful ethical learning tools, and the risk of psychological damage is relatively low. Nevertheless, most role playing games need ‘gamemasters’ with absolute powers to make sure players are not cheating, or being abusive to fellow gamers; and
Compulsory – the business simulation games in the 1970s were effectively compulsory for students, but lasted only a few days in the obviously unreal environment of a hotel. Nevertheless, in order to prevent psychological damage stringent ethical principles were enforced. If real business gaming at work were to become compulsory i.e. part of the job, then strong ethical moderation would be a necessity. The other antidote to the dangers of playing for real is rule number one of gaming (the game must be fun) and that also means that all players must be able to experience interesting and creative roles to achieve meaningful results.
In the next instalment, the role of social currency – also known as community currencies and complementary currencies – in gaming will be introduced. Along with the outlines of how two related knowledge games – the curation game and the intelligence game – might work.
Jan Wyllie is the founder of Open Intelligence and author of one of Ark’s most successful reports, Taxonomies: Frameworks for Corporate Knowledge. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Learning from the future – Early history kgameification for enterprise 3.0
By Simon Bostock
Back in 2010, KM consisted of a massive stock of indexed information. Documents were classified and indexed by people and by computers.
But (cough) fewer people used knowledge than we'd have liked, and much of it was forgotten and wasted.
So we tried adding layers. We tried adding a user-generated layer of metadata (tags, folksonomies), a social layer (Yammer, Facebook) and a task-oriented layer (when we, belatedly, hired user experience specialists). But, although undeniably useful, none of these approaches addressed the underlying problems of our repository. For example:
Users had difficulty grasping the scope of the system and were unable to create mental models of the domain. Worse, they didn’t know what they didn’t know;
Because they didn’t know what they didn’t know, users weren’t able to get at the information when they most needed it; and
Even as information became accessible – just-in-time, as opposed to just-in-case – users struggled to use the data in their sense-making efforts because it lacked emotional context. Let’s face it, KM did not do mission statements, values or culture very well, but games do. These are exactly the problems that games, with their rules, models and sense of achievement, solve.
In 2010, we began to see a lot more discussion on the internet and in books about something that was called 'gameification'. One school of thought is summarised neatly by UX (user experience) specialist, Sebastian Deterding, in 'Just Add Points'1. He suggests that if we add rewards for achievement – for example, a badge – to our applications and intranets, this will motivate users to behave in ways we want them to, like rats in a Skinner-box.
We realised that another, more useful (and, indeed, ethical), way to view gameification was as an ongoing investigation into revealing the game-like structures underlying much of what we already do.
So-called serious games developers first saw the potential of FPS [first person shooter] games, such as Call of Duty, as a learning tool to simulate disasters for emergency workers or military operatives because they excel at mapping physical spaces and the hazards they contain. We'd previously seen what war games and Sims could do to 'map' discrete or counter-factual situations – ‘learning from the future’, as one participant memorably put it. What type of game would you use if you wanted to play with KM?
For ‘Project: Bazaar’, our experiment in adding a ludic layer to our KM system, we chose the role-playing game (RPG) because they are centred around a journey which conceptualised the scope of our knowledge system, quests or missions (or just-in-time knowledge) and character development. The combination of a story narrative and role playing characters provided emotional context for the mission and values. To provide the gameplay for our RPG, we captured events from the organisation's history and current practices and turning them into 'storylets', or individual game elements, which 'unlock' their real-life counterpart on the intranet, and help to create a mental model and an affective context for the information stored there.
Simon Bostock is a leading ‘gameifier’. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.gameify.org
1. Just Add Points, the presentation by Sebastian Deterding, can be viewed at: http://www.slideshare.net/dings/just-add-points-what-ux-can-and-cannot-learn-from-games