This article aims to define a new field of studies and experimentation at the cross-roads between the worlds of gaming and online digital data: “datatainment.”
I propose here the word “Datatainment,” as a portmanteau word combining “data” and (enter) “tainment” to define a new way of representing digital data related to the activities of individuals within the information world. Through this new concept, we intend to implement the dynamic transposition of a community’s information-related activities to video and real amusement-oriented environments.data: In this paper “data” is to be understood as part of a basic material malleable at will that can be shaped just like clay into a form or a volume laden with meaning and emotion. Data can either be presented in a quite elementary way: in binary, hexadecimal, decimal patterns… like digital data produced for statistic purposes (”log” files on web servers, for instance), or they can be aggregated in a meaningful (informative) way, which means considered as a message/message fragment (a comment on a blog, for instance).
(enter)tainment: Since playing games is said to be very significant in the evolution of species and especially in the evolution of mammals (1), we should overstep the usually mostly derogatory views on game-playing and rather strive to see it in a different, anthropological light by focusing on its cultural and teaching-oriented dimensions [Huizinga, 1938]. Reaching far beyond all competitive or collaborative logic, games are metaphors of the real world in that they transpose formal, customary behaviors and enable individuals to increase their creativity whilst fostering their social skills and, in the greater picture, contributing to the very development of civilization [Caillois, 1957]. As Chris Crawford says, the ability of games to bring together distinct entities makes them key elements of interaction design [Crawford, 03]. Game playing promotes dialogues between human beings and machines as shown by Apple’s tremendous success: “The Macintosh is just a toy.” As a new “hyper-social” society composed of “digital natives” is currently surfacing, games appear as a great opportunity to transcribe the behaviors and actions of individuals within an informational environment (cyberspace).
datatainment stems from experiments conducted in the field of mapping whereby it first and foremost aims at representing the digital territory. To do so it borrows from graphic semiology (2) and transcends the founding principles of information mapping [Bertin, 67]: in this case variables are materialized by dynamic symbols, be they metaphorical, explicit or personified; maps (the media) – traditionally used to contextualize data or messages – turn into “environments” within which data and messages can evolve easily. But the true specificity of datatainment lies in its implementing interaction modes that break free from usual functionality and accessibility requirements so as to enable users to experience situations drawing inspiration from the notion of gameplay.
The birth of the Web 2.0 (3) and the subsequent increase of all related online content-oriented applications has brought about a rise in the amount of resources available to Internet users, promoted knowledge-sharing, woven social relationships out of shared knowledge and opinions… Some thinkers see this phenomenon as the expression of a “collective intelligence” [Levy, 97]. It also appears as a huge exploration field that can easily be exploited by confronting and extracting the information and the spurs left – consciously or not – by Internet users (data mining). As F. Ghitalla ’s (4) studies have shown, collecting information, analyzing how it is interconnected and mapping it out (information visualization), prove very efficient on a strategic level. In the political field for instance they enabled him to predict that the French would say “no” to the European Constitution through the referendum held on May 29th, 2005 whereas most poll agencies announced that the Treaty would be heartily welcomed by the French. In the economic field “Crowdsourcing” (5) enables one to observe the trends of such or such market, the dynamics of competition seen from a user’s point of view, this time (6). In the field of data research the crossbreeding between browser history, correspondence and Internet user behavior has played a quite significant part in Google’s quickly achieved fame.
Datatainment is not meant to create analyzing tools: it is rather a mode of representation not so much helping Internet users grow increasingly aware of their own “cyber-existence,” as bringing to the fore means to take action and build a “digital social” (7) identity. Rooted in a long-term educational approach, datatainment is a means of facing the crucial need to educate people about the omnipresent information ecosystem that is also on the verge of becoming omniscient.
Video games undoubtedly took part in the development of micro-computing whereby they helped the broad public adjust to it. Their success – now going way further than merely fulfilling the need for entertainment (8) – shows how the Internet users of today have embraced video games as cultural values, going as far as making video games into essential 21st Century knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer tools. Nowadays video games are gradually breaking free from all-too-common heroic fantasy-type quests and growing more mature, entering the “serious gaming” step. J. Alvarez [Alvarez 07] defines “serious gaming” as follows: “Computer application aiming to combine serious aspects such as – this is a non-exhaustive list – teaching, learning, communication and information with amusement-oriented features stemming from video games. This combination – achieved by implementing an “educational scenario” – endeavors to detach itself from mere entertainment. Serious gaming is a means of transposing contexts, objects, activities and actual situations to virtualize them into playful environments. In this virtual context the user can therefore explore real life situations as a game. To do so, serious gaming relies on digital realistic models and takes the shape of a simulation device coupled with gameplay, enabling the player to follow an interactive pedagogical process (9). Thanks to serious gaming, we can play to solve a wide range of complex issues ranging from the individual practice of a foreign language (10), to collective protein folding (11) or to planning, organizing and rehearsing varied rescue operations (12).
The main difference between datatainment and serious gaming lies in their relationship to reality. When I play “Fold It,” the game’s interface renders behaviors and automatic responses that fully mirror the biochemical phenomena ruling over protein structure. This way, by manipulating a three-dimensional puzzle I get a chance to discover new protein structures that may bear fruit and lead to the production of an actual vaccine. Opposingly datatainment relies on resources coming from an already immaterial environment (Web); it aims to re-contextualize these resources within the same environment but in a different manner. In the end, datatainment brings the opportunity to materialize virtual spheres into real world applications via tangible interfaces or products which communicate.
(1) Human beings are the mammals most prone to game-playing.
(2) “Information semiology” would perhaps be more appropriate, referring to the use of maps to represent information.
(3) 7-point definition of the Web 2.0 by Tim O’Reilly
French translation available at: http://www.eutech-ssii.com/ressources/view/1
(4) Several business intelligence tools dedicated to exploiting trends prevailing in the Web 2.0. can be found on the Linkfluence website.
(5) Jeff Howe’s Website (see his definition of “Crowdsourcing“)
(6) An issue I have been researching as part of my PhD (Thesis titled “Web 2.0 and Integration of the Horizontal Innovation Strategy into the Global Innovation Strategy of SMC’s”)
(7) This is a reference to the notion of “social identity,” here applied to a “de-materialized” life.
(8) According to R. Caillois “MMORPG” (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) rank in the “mimicry“ category because when “corrupted” (i.e. when the boundaries between game and reality are too blurry) they can be quite harmful and – among other potential consequences – lead to the player’s alienation or schizophrenic behavior (cf. table II p122).
(9) Jean-Noël Portugal, 2nd European Serious Game Summit (Lyon, France, December 2006)
(10) “English Training” or “Dr Kawashima’s Advanced Brain Training” on Nintendo DS
(11) http://fold.it is part of the research effort to find an anti-HIV vaccine.
(12) Such as “SWORD”: Game developed by MASA Group for firefighter training.
[Huizinga, 1938] Homo Ludens (Johan Huizinga)
[Caillois, 57] Roger Caillois. “Les jeux et les hommes.” (Gallimard)
[Crawford, 03] Chris Crawford. “The Art of Interactive Design,” p.225
[Bertin, 67] Jacques Bertin. “Sémiologie Graphique, Les diagrammes, Les réseaux, Les cartes.”
[Levy, 97] Pierre Levy “L’intelligence collective, pour une anthropologie du cyberespace.”
[Alvarez 07] “Du jeu vidéo au serious game” : Approches culturelle, pragmatique et formelle.” Thesis defended by Julian Alvarez on December 17, 2007 / Université Toulouse II (France)