Home' Position : Position Feb Mar 2016 Contents Video games: ruining young
minds or preparing them for a
future of neogeography?
Martin Gregory discusses.
It used to fill me with horror to see
my kids sitting intensely in front of
a screen when they should be out on
their bikes, fishing, swimming, doing
things that I used to do and enjoy.
However, recently I spent time actually
looking at what's going on when they are
engaged for hours on end. I was quite
surprised when I took a proper look at
Minecraft; surprised that the kids were so
involved in more of the 'sand box' games
and getting totally engaged with this 3D
Minecraft, for the uninitiated, is like
digital Lego. It allows users to build
worlds where kids can play with their
friends, explore each other's worlds,
go on adventures and acquire and look
after animals along the way, among
limitless other activities. It all sounds like
pretty fun stuff, however it can get quite
So how does this relate to the GIS
sector? What is its potential? We assume
it's got one, because Microsoft acquired
Mojang, the maker of Minecraft, for
US$2.5 billion last September. So can we
learn from Minecraft about how to bring
game-like attributes to the user experience
of other GIS tools? Should the world
of spatial take advantage of the lessons
of the gaming world? Is spatial being
'gamified'? I think from my perspective I
think it certainly seems to indicate that
the worlds of spatial, and what we know
of traditionally as gaming, are converging.
Although this may seem like an odd
connection, there have already been some
exciting projects. It also means that we
have a new generation, neogeographers,
who are already engaged and confident
with location information. This could help
the perhaps more traditional geography,
cartography and GIS sector to get involved
in the development of new applications.
Minecraft is leading in this area. It's
enabling people, from children to senior
citizens, to develop complex structures-
everything from individual properties
to the entire outside world. We can even
start to go inside and get into the realms
of building information modelling (BIM),
designing and managing internal spaces.
So yes, we're already seeing some
interesting developments happening in
Minecraft, involving game-like attributes
and developing new apps or services.
Everything happens somewhere. It also
happens IRL (in real life). So it makes
sense to harness people's natural desire
for socialising, learning, self-expression
and achievement, and get them involved
in the development of their local areas.
The gamification of GIS can help to bring
people into the sector.
Some of the most interesting
developments along these lines are
happening right across Europe and in
Australia too. Ordnance Survey Great
Britain has completed a project to
reengineer its OpenData product to create
a Minecraft world of the whole country.
It's 86,000 square miles and uses 22
billion Minecraft blocks. The key objective
here is for the organisation to engage with
a new type of user and at the same time
drive the objectives for OpenData to foster
Denmark has a very similar project
which seeks to engage people in
education. They have recreated the
country in terms of roads, buildings
and elevation models to create a virtual
Denmark where gamers can explore their
own residential areas and tear down and
build new structures.
The Swedish have taken their national
datasets, kept all the infrastructure and
the physical features, but removed all the
buildings. People are invited to register a
building plot in a virtual world and create
new structures according to what they
want to see there. These things get a lot of
interest: 45,000 people were involved in
the Swedish project.
Citizen science is also represented in
the spatial sector through services like
Tomnod. Recently 16,500 people helped
with the Nepal relief effort by capturing
change data. Not surprisingly the United
Nations are taking this very seriously. They
have an ambitious project to improve 300
public spaces in developing nations. It
involves promoting sustainable towns and
cities by involving young people in the
planning of urban public spaces.
It turns out that Minecraft is
the perfect tool for facilitating this.
One example is that of a rubbish tip
surrounding buildings. It was quickly
modelled in Minecraft, allowing local
people to propose new
features for the space
and engage in their
A Valley in the Himalayas. Image from
Ordnance Survey. Minecraft landscape
created by Joseph Braybrook.
Neogeography & the
gamification of GIS
"It makes sense to harness
people's natural desire for
socialising, learning, self-
expression and achievement,
and get them involved in the
development of their local areas."
16 position February/March 2016
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