Since the dawn of humankind, people have sketched maps on cave walls and rocks. These maps documented and communicated important geographic knowledge, and helped our ancestors make better decisions about the critical choices that determined their survival or demise.
Fast-forward to the 1960s. Computers had arrived on the scene and were beginning to be used to help us solve increasingly complex problems. “It was not until the IT revolution brought new hardware and software, removing earlier constraints, that hopes could begin to be realized and modern GIS could take shape,” Prof. Brian J. L. Berry of the University of Texas, Dallas says in an article titled “Quo Vadimus?” in the upcoming Spring 2012 issue of ArcNews. “And take shape it has, creating the extraordinary new interdisciplinary area of geospatial information science.”
“But,” notes Berry, “the full potential of the revolution has yet to be realized.” He sees hope in the millennial generation—those born in the 1980s and 1990s, characterized by their familiarity with and ubiquitous use of computing and communications technologies. “Importantly,” he adds, millennials “are among the one-fourth of U.S. Internet users who play games on social networks.” And this segment is growing.
“The potential of online social gaming has, I believe, yet to be realized by geospatial analysts,” says Berry. These environments “have the potential to attract participants to work on real-world problems and craft potential solutions.”
Others agree. Prof. Ola Ahlqvist of Ohio State University notes that the virtual worlds that live inside today’s games “embed parallels to many societal processes that we regard as complex and ‘wicked’ problems.” And this is where the real potential lies. As Berry says, “The fun is in the gaming; the opportunity comes in focusing on real problems in real places rather than on virtual worlds.”
Computing technology is the most cost-effective resource we have at our disposal to help us solve the complex problems we are facing. A convergence of geospatial technologies and online social gaming could leverage the ever-growing online gaming community as a resource for real-world problem-solving.
How can we move forward in using virtual worlds to help us better understand the real world? You can read more in Berry’s article in the Spring 2012 issue of ArcNews, which will be available towards the end of March. [Note: it's now available online here.]