Wednesday, February 02, 2011

What Real-World Problems Can Be Solved with Computer Games?

Above is a very interesting TED talk about computer games, by Tom Chatfield.

I've written before about serious games, and today I have some more thoughts on the subject. The world has all kinds of problems that need solving. Can we get everyday people working on these problems in the context of a game?

Let's take climate change as an example. Let's suppose we make a computer game in which the goal is to fix the climate problem facing the world today. Players adjust things in the game, and you do well in the game if the climate gets better. Sounds great, right?

The problem is this: we don't understand the world well enough to make such a game realistic. Think of how complex the internal model of the game would have to be, including not only the geophysics and chaotic weather systems of Earth, but also economics, pollution, politics, and industry. Hell, you might even need to model the future of technology, which is impossible.

Even if we were to be able to make such a model, there's a good chance that once we did, we would not need people to solve the problem-- an AI doing a smart search through the space of solutions might be faster. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the task needs to be one that people are good at but computers are not. Usually this means leveraging common-sense reasoning or perception.

The reason existing serious games often require agreement between the players is because the computer can't check to see if the player is right. If it could, we wouldn't need the game.

Perhaps a way to do some of these problems is to have plans automatically generated, and people try to agree on their plausibility or implausibility.

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