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Collective Intelligence in Videogames

Collective intelligence is not a difficult concept to understand; many individuals working together with a singular goal, wherein each piece of information gathered contributes to the intelligence of the collective. In the videogames industry, there’s not much that gets done without it. Jane McGonigal, a significant figurehead of the industry, has a definition that is far more concise.

“The term collective intelligence, or CI for short, was originally coined by French philosopher Pierre Levy in 1994 to describe the impact of Internet technologies on the cultural production and consumption of knowledge.” (McGonigal, 2008)

The videogame industry is just that. Games are becoming more heavily influenced by an increasing demand for multiplayer connectivity. We are seeing games released, such as Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, on systems that are capable of providing a single-player experience, that are multiplayer only. This, however, is only a small part of the emergent collective intelligence in videogames. With the obvious exception of the development process itself – in that it requires many people with varying skillsets working together to create a product – there is one other area of the videogame industry that relies heavily on collective intelligence; augmented reality games, or ARGs for short.

ARGs are interactive experiences hosted on the internet that are separate from the on-disc versions of games but contribute to them in some way. There are several good examples of this, such as the I Love Bees ARG developed by Jane McGonigal for the Microsoft videogame Halo 2 in 2004 (McGonigal, 2008), but a far more recent example would be Assassin’s Creed: Initiates, developed by Ubisoft late 2013.

The Initiates website allows users to log in using their uPlay identification and access a digital database of information gathered from all iterations of the franchise as well as giving players the ability to trigger missions in-game from their PC and collect the rewards once they have returned to the browser from their game. The collective intelligence in this system comes from the Lost Missions section of the site.

The Lost Missions require the player to have an advanced knowledge of the Assassin’s Creed universe. It provides players with a single clue, marked on a world-map. The players then have to figure out the geological location each clue refers to and click on that area to reveal hidden information relating to the franchise’s universe. Players, using this Initiates system in conjunction with hints given by the administrators of the site, have discovered information that may relate to the setting of the next major game release. (Calandra, 2014)

The sheer level of effort put into this game’s ARG indicates that there is a significant pool of thinking power out there, just waiting to be harnessed. With the right mode of delivery, the collective intelligence of gamers could be put to use solving some of the world’s most complex problems. Journalist Clive Thompson agrees.

“What started happening with the Internet was that people started realizing they could participate in things that were creative even if they were stupidly creative, like LOLcats or enormously collectively creative like Wikipedia or blogging. If you shave off the tiniest hundredth of a percent of the amount of time we spent watching TV, you get Wikipedia.” (Thompson, 2012)

David Edery, writing on his blog ‘Game Tycoon’, calls this system ‘the Wisdom of Crowds’. In this blog, he suggests multiple ways in which videogames may be adapted to reflect real-world situations in an effort to combat the problems faced in these situations. He suggests, given that the videogame SimCity simulates expanding and maintaining a city, that it could easily be modified to reflect real-world financial issues in an effort to predict economic events.

“Some games (both single-player and massive multiplayer) already include complex economic systems as part of their design mechanic. It would be easy to embed real-world, real-time financial data (such as commodity prices) within those games. Companies could track how players react to the data, then aggregate the reactions to predict real-world economic events accordingly. And, as massive multiplayer games with rich, dynamic economies become increasingly popular, opportunities to learn from player behavior will be enhanced accordingly.” (Edery, 2006)

What we are being presented with is a huge base of able individuals showing the potential to become deeply involved in a project provided it has the right stimulus to motivate them, and a significant lack of methodologies being developed to harness this potential. We are sitting on possibly the biggest melting pot of ideas that could yield significant advances in thousands of areas, if only we knew how to get people involved.

 

References:

1)      McGonigal, J. 2008, Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence, retrieved from http://mitpress2.mit.edu/books/chapters/0262195755chap9.pdf

2)      McGonigal, J. 2008, Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence, retrieved from http://mitpress2.mit.edu/books/chapters/0262195755chap9.pdf

3)      Calandra, N. 2014, Assassin’s Creed V to Take Place In Russia?, retrieved from http://www.onlysp.com/assassins-creed-v-to-take-place-in-russia/

4)      Thompson, C, 2012, Clive Thompson: The Folding Game, retrieved from http://www.guernicamag.com/daily/clive-thompson-video-games-collective-intelligence-and-protein-folding/

5)      Edery, D, 2006, Using Games to Tap Collective Intelligence, retrieved from http://www.edery.org/2006/09/using-games-to-tap-collective-intelligence/

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