Why making the crowd smart is a no-brainerMay 6th, 2010 by Tommaso De Benetti
I’m sure it’s happened to you. Sometimes I get it when I can’t sleep. Other times it happens if I wake up suddenly: I catch my brain red-handed elaborating concepts and ideas without my permission.
Whether it’s the echo of a dream which still maintains its shape, some sort of eureka moment coming out of nowhere, or just the side effect of a hard to digest dinner, the results are often surprisingly fruitful: I guess this is why great thinkers like Jerry Seinfeld keep a notepad by their beds. Sure, there are times where it would be nice to disconnect from the world and just get some rest, but I am not going to complain if my brain keeps searching for answers while I’m lying face down on bed. If nothing else it gives me an excuse to sleep in occasionally.
The other night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I had just such a moment of enlightenment. I realized that something I’ve been wishing for – mini-games that multitudes of people around the world could play within one complex, overarching game – already exist. Well, almost.
My epiphany relates to the brain child of the now famous Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. In 2003 the good Doctor wrote a book called Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain. The book, containing simple mathematical calculations intermingled with memory tests and counting tests, was a smash hit around the world.
Nintendo, well recognized for its efforts to expand the gaming demographic, decided to produce a game based on the book and, with the help of Kawashima himself (appearing as a guiding character in the game), released in 2005 a title known on PAL territories as Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain? Latest available data indicate that the game and its sequel together have sold a staggering 33 million copies worldwide.
The effectiveness of brain training exercises has had a lot of press recently, after a large study indicated that any improvements in cognitive functioning apply only to the specific exercises practiced. Aside from this longstanding debate over whether or not they actually work, what I found interesting about Brain Training is that, in practice, the exercises people perform to give their gray matter a work-out are very close to the kind of micro tasks crowdsourcing platforms could use to help other industries redistribute their workloads. Among others, Brain Training exercises include calculations, quick reading, counting syllables and keeping track of elements on screen: all operations easily transferable to other fields.
As I discussed in another recent post, masking work snippets as mini-games could lead to radically different pricing models for games. In the case of educational software such as Brain Training (and also applying to quiz games such as Buzz! and language software like English Training) the structure is already there, requiring only few tweaks to make them serve a radically different purpose. If game designers get together with crowdsourcing experts and integrate the two concepts, in the next years we could see the emergence of computer based activities that are rewarding for players and businesses simultaneously. These activities would be fun, educational and productive.
Now if only someone out there was smart enough to put my idea into practice… As for me, I should really get some sleep.