The Computational Side-Effects Of Gaming

It had entirely escaped my attention that I recently wrote something for The Escapist. It’s interesting, because I say word stuff wot read good. Like this:

What if games could do something practical while they entertain us? What if by playing games you weren’t simply entertaining yourself and others, but adding to the grand sum of human knowledge? This is the idea behind an ongoing academic project entitled “Games With A Purpose.” The project, which focuses on the work of a young assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, Luis Von Ahn, has one specific objective: to create games with useful computational side-effects.

You can read the entirety of the piece just here. The conclusion is moderately lacking in lustre, due the original one having been cut thanks to an “editorial overlap”, aka some other bugger writing the same thing a couple of months earlier. Bah.


  1. wcaypahwat says:

    Interesting concept, I’d like to see where it could lead in the future. Although I’m not sure things need a higher purpose, really. Like those darned movie review type shows, where two old buggers pick apart the movie, pointing out the smallest flaws and going on about artistic merit or some other gibberish. In all honesty, why can’t things simply exist for the sake of entertainment? Shaved cats, for example.

    On a side note, I’m somewhat curious as to what kieron wrote for PC Powerplay magazine a while back, down here in Australia.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    One of the themes of, ahem, my forthcoming book is a discussion of how games should be valued, and whether giving them a purpose outside of entertainment is a good or necessary idea. My natural impulse as a writer is to talk about that Added Value Academia, but as a gamer I’m not sure I should give a damn.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    wcaypahwat: Why do you ask? I think I did a couple of really small things. The one I remember was a news piece about the Freeplay festival I was speaking at.


  4. Down Rodeo says:

    Regarding what you said about using the spare clock cycles, I was part of that BBC thing for calculating possible futures under global warming. I had it running in the background whilst I played CoD2 :)

  5. wcaypahwat says:

    KG – they just bought out a 150th anniversary issue, and listed everyone who’s ever contributed, I noticed your name in the list.

  6. Mike says:

    It’s hard to get true, useful computation out of the gamer, surely? Unless it’s something simple, but large-scale like comparison, opinion, decision – simple things that we can’t emulate with AI yet, for example.

    I think that’s the thing – we can’t compute faster than true distributed computers, but we can do tricky, simple little cognitive things that could wind up being useful somewhere. Things like The Cutest (link to allows massive aggregation of things, but with a real, human output.

    The question, then, is why make that into a game, rather than just an exercise like The Cutest? Presumably, because we’d rather be shooting cute images than clicking on them. Which is cool enough.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    Games also supply human and competitive elements, like the connection people feel in the ESP game.

  8. Mike says:

    The competition thing is certainly interesting, too. Plus, if you get the hang of composing small-scale abilities into larger ones, you could harness things like creativity to make much larger, more complex creative works.

    Kind of like (though it pains me to say it) Spore. Individual creativity creates an artificially unique universe. Nice.

  9. Ixis says:

  10. Andrew Doull says:

    Imagine where a game (or genre of games) was dependent on ever improving computer processing power… do you think that would lead to some kind of incentive to improve CPU speed and reduce die size?

    I think people forget how much good games have already done…

  11. arqueturus says:

    Jim, do you have a UK published release for your book yet?

  12. arqueturus says:

    You fail, sort it out. Although, do these guys ship to blighty?

    Also, come back to the epic lag machine. We need direction.