Meatspace Farmville

Paul Raven @ 04-05-2011

The socnetting/gamification of everything seems to be picking up pace. How’d you fancy playing Farmville with a real working farm?

The MyFarm experiment hands over power at the National Trust’s 2,500-acre Wimpole Estate farm in Cambridgeshire, UK. Up to 10,000 farming novices will choose which bull to buy, which crop to plant and whether to spilt fields to resurrect lost hedgerows.

“I will put in here whatever the online farmers want to grow,” said Richard Morris, Wimpole’s manager, standing on the edge of Pond Field, currently green with grass and clover rippling in the wind. “Farming is always a compromise – there is never a right or a wrong answer. If I choose one thing, my neighbour will be leaning over the fence shaking his head.”

Wisely (or perhaps disappointingly, depending on how you view the necessity of learning from stupid mistakes), it’s not a completely open system:

“The online farmers will not be able to choose to grow cannabis or bananas, but undoubtedly there will be some strange decisions, some decisions I would not have made.”

[…]

Morris says all major decisions will be put to the MyFarm users.

There will be one big vote each month, but these could trigger more frequent votes. In Pond Field, for example, if wheat is chosen, should it be bread-making wheat or biscuit wheat? “I am making decisions every day,” he says. “The first thing I do after getting up is look at the weather out of the window, and that sets the day going.”

Right now, with 300 new lambs delivered and scampering in the fields, Morris is bringing in grass to make silage for next winter’s feed. But the dry weather has left the fields short of grass, so the young cattle are being left in the barns for a while, to make sure the sheep have enough.

In the future, Morris says, there will be a smartphone app which will allow him to get near instant decisions from the online farmers. “For example, if I have wheat in the field, ripe and ready, but rain in the morning means it is damp, do we risk waiting and losing some of the crop, or combining [harvesting] it now and incurring some extra drying costs?”

I remember how SimCity and Railroad Tycoon got me interested in economic systems (although, as our very own Jonathan McCalmont has pointed out, the systems they portray don’t reflect reality in an entirely accurate way), so there’s little doubt that gamification can educate and fascinate… but I suspect the slow pay-off aspect of real agriculture will provide insufficient rewards for the sort of folk who get a kick from Farmville. Even so, I’m encouraged by the possibilities for engagement with reality that these sorts of initiatives are moving toward; regular readers will know that I believe we need to become more actively involved with the systems that support our existence, and while MyFarm is a very basic implementation of that idea, it’s a step in the right direction.


GreenGoose and the gamification of… er, pretty much everything

Paul Raven @ 02-03-2011

Still trying to get a handle on that whole Internet Of Things idea? Intrigued by the buzzphrase “gamification”, or the concept of lifelogging-as-behavioural-feedback channel? Wondering what people are trying to do with RFID now that the futureglow has faded from that particular tech concept? Here’s where they all meet up:

the folks behind Green Goose […] have come up with a system that turns boring tasks like brushing your teeth and exercising into a game that awards the ‘player’ with lifestyle points for completing various everyday tasks, in much the same way as players earn experience points in role playing games.

Green Goose uses wireless sensors that can be attached to objects, such as a toothbrush, water bottle or bike, to detect when you perform a task you have set yourself and rewards you with lifestyle points. These sensors were originally only available as egg-shaped attachments tailored for specific uses, but have now been shrunk down to small stickers and credit-card sized devices that can be attached to just about anything.

Worried that your kids live in world that’s much like The Sims? Well, why not make reality more like The Sims!

Interestingly (though not surprisingly, gamifying child behaviour wasn’t the original application:

The company was originally positioning the system as a tool for ecological and financial responsibility with its egg-shaped sensors designed to be attached to a bike, thermostat or showerhead to keep track of how much money a user saves by riding their bike instead of driving, keeping the air conditioning down or taking shorter showers.

At the risk of channeling Chairman Bruce, man, I can’t imagine why people weren’t queuing up to buy a game that would continually remind them how much they were screwing over the environment on a daily basis! We all know we need to do something, but there ain’t much comfort in being reminded just how much we need to do…

GreenGoose looks eminently hackable, though, not to mention easily cloned on the cheap; I can see some interesting interstitial/AR gaming applications straight away, but I suspect that, as always, the street will find its own uses for things that no one entirely expected. How’s about this one: fair allocation and metering of time-sensitive resources in your favela-chic stuffed-animal commune? Gotta keep track of who’s caning the hot water, after all, and if you ain’t done your chores then you don’t get your full bandwidth quota for the day…