Gamification For Space

There are many little problems or ideas that need to be tested especially around going to and living in space.  Testing ideas on a small scale with large data sets can greatly improve understanding and future success of novel ideas.  The largest pool of testers is everyone with a computer of any kind whether portable, mobile, or not.  The most receptive community within computer owners to test new ideas are gamers.  Gamers are fault tolerant, problem solvers, and tend to be power computing users.  Gamers are a resource to tap for testing new concepts.  That is, if you can make testing a game.

Gamification is using game rules and rewards as an interactive experience.  Learning software for kids has employed gamification for years.  For example, pick the correct letter or number and get a reward like a happy monkey.  Pick the wrong letter or number and the llama is sad.  Pick enough correct letters or numbers and unlock the baby panda.  At any rate, do something good and get a reward or screw up and your llama is sad.  Fairly low risk for incremental reward.

SETI@home has gamified the search for extraterrestrial life.  Download their software and start modeling gobs of radio telescope data.  The data is visualized nicely in a screen saver and the amount of data processed is recorded online.  In essence, turning data processing into a game with points for processing packets of data.  A person can sign up as a user and join groups and be part of a larger community.  User groups apply all member’s processed data.  Each day a user of renown is shown with their data and what groups the user is part.    Users are rewarded by being singled out for running large amounts of data and groups are championed by users to become the numero-uno-head-hancho group.  Be the first to run the data packet that contains an intelligent life signal and completely change humanity’s view of themselves in the universe.  Epic alien pwn!

What we see from kids games to SETI data processing is discreet incremental rewards make the game.  Specifically, atomic sets of work need to be accomplished in order to count towards a reward.  Penalties could set back reward progress or simply not count.  The tricky part is making the work towards a reward meaningful and actually rewarding.  Otherwise, the game will not continue to be played.

It is time to gamify some problems.  Living in space has some complications we would like to resolve or at least test.  Here are a few ideas we could test that could be related to a larger game:  raise your own food, recycle everything, and generate energy.  What we know is each idea needs to have an atomic, step wise progression to rewards.  Perhaps also penalties.  Time to build a game.

A typical game component could be to grow your own food.  There are already plenty of home hydroponic kits.  Nothing new here and the reward is already fresh herbs, etc.  The test is not to grow known plants but to test growing new plants with different nutrients, substrates (what the plant grows in), and light.  To gamify we will need a measurable atomic unit.  Our unit will be the completion of a grow cycle or the time from seed to mature plant.  The data is whatever we want to test.  The reward is completing the growth cycle.  The penalty is not advancing to new types of plants.  Therefore, the growing of a plant needs to be individual and modular to be able to record data and grant reward.

A plant module could contain a seed or seeds, nutrient, substrate, an LED light and sensors.  The module should be cheap to make and easy to distribute.  Setup and data collection must be super simple.  The module should be small and completely recyclable (parallel to recycle game).  Meaningful measurements could be light received per time period, moisture, temperature, root density, pH, ppm of nutrients through electrical conductivity, and/ or photo absorption.  It is important measurements are made by the system at regular intervals and not a human.  However, extra points for comments during the test could be a reward.  Comments could be as simple as “This tastes like licorice.”  or “It tastes like burning!”  At any rate, the data needs to be collected, stored, and transmitted to a central location.

Time to package and transmit some data.  We need to preserve the integrity of the data and make sure it is not changed either erroneously or maliciously.  To do this, all data will need to be packaged and secured during collection and prior to transmitting to a central repository.  The package will have relevant meta information to know what the package contains, dates, and who created.  Also, the package will have a hash created to know if the package was altered, then compressed, and finally secured against change through encryption.  Once the data is transmitted to the central repository an automated vetting process could be employed to remove corrupt data packages.  From collection to transmission the data should not be available to be manipulated.  Also, gaming the system by transmitting fake packages should be protected against.

Time now for some rewards.  Data has been received and found to be intact and without error.  That should be worth some points.  In fact, more points could be given as a bonus for something like uploading 10 packages of data.  More bonus for 25 packages and other milestones.  Get enough points and unlock new plants, new modules, or perhaps a sunflower bobble head.  Reward yourself by unlocking enough points and get a free online course in hydroponics!  Team up and earn rewards for your school.  Rewards can be anything but should be relevant to the game and worth acquiring.

Amplify the game by creating interdependence of modules.  The plant growing module could be receiving energy from the solar panel module and/ or the windowsill wind power module.  The water could be from the water purification/ condensation module.  Extra points for using interdependent modules.  Escalating points for running modules only from power they create.  Perhaps certain mega modules are a connection of a set amount of smaller modules for a specific set of interdependent tests.  Mega modules could really rack up the points fast!  That sunflower bobble head could be yours so much sooner.

Gamification of small tests can create volumes of relevant data.  The rewards can be simple to educational.  However, the greatest reward would be to involve people and make them feel a contributing part of eventually living in space.