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  ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
Today I present some scattered seeds of an idea that have been clanking around the back of my brain since I put together a presentation on "Productive Play" last year. In that presentation, I talked about how the important task of baggage screening might be improved by turning it into a massively-multiplayer game (a refined version of an earlier blog post). At the very least, the player-base for Airport Screening: The MMO would consist of actual airport screeners, but I also suggested the results might be improved by opening up the game to the public (I imagined that the number of well-intentioned participants would vastly exceed the number of griefers).

In the same presentation, I also imagined a variation of the prison-themed MMO PrisonServer, where players could adopt the role of guards: Part of a guard's responsibilities would involve watching surveillance cameras and reporting suspicious activity. In this imaginary variation, the camera footage would be actual prison footage, and reports would be submitted to actual prison authorities. False positives would seriously harm one's in-game reputation or right to play, hopefully mitigating griefing. Granted this all seems quite far-fetched in terms of actual implementation, but I submit that it's not such a stretch, based on real-life examples.

In Arizona, live images from the U.S./Mexico border were reportedly broadcast to the internet, as in Texas, where its internet-enabled "Border Watch" program recorded 200k subscribers, 25M hits, and 12k emails. That program is now accepting proposals for making it permanently sustainable. According to the official web site, "The month-long test also demonstrated the high interest Texans -- and residents of other states -- have in border security." Meanwhile, New York City's 911 and 311 centers are (or will begin) accepting photos via email from camera-equipped citizens; London (UK) suburbanites are using camera phones to alert local officials about graffiti, potholes, and garbage in the area; social media hubs like YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace are turning up criminals, in part thanks to a perceptive public.

I maintain that a game could be used to tap the masses productively in surveillance situations--at the very least, to help improve the accuracy of notoriously stupid machines. Sort of like The ESP Game for surveillance. One of the main social challenges here, I think, is in convincing people that although surveillance isn't a game, massively-multiplayer game play could make surveillance more effective.

Also see Dave Edery's article "Using Games to Tap Collective Intelligence.
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Comment posted by Ryan Shaw
February 8, 2007 @ 2:59 pm
You might be interested in a paper on recognition markets I presented at the Unblinking symposium at UC Berkeley this past fall, inspired in part by your blog post from last year.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
February 8, 2007 @ 11:55 pm
Ryan, thanks for the heads-up, I'm definitely interested in reading your paper, and will probably do so this weekend. Cheers!
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