What is the Impact of Gaming on Geotechnology?

by Matt Ball on November 23, 2007

Gaming and simulation have had a long history of ingesting geospatial data to create realistic real-world environments. Gaming has also influenced the way geospatial data is visualized and navigated within geospatial software packages. The considerable graphics demand of gaming software has spurred advances in computer hardware that have in turn increased the speed and clarity of displayed graphic information, paving the way for the display of real-time and realistic geographic information.

Serious Simulation

The U.S. Army and other military training outfits have harnessed gaming, and realistic simulations of war zones, to train their troops away from the battle zone. These sophisticated models continuously advance in their realism, to the point where they now include the interaction of avatars that mimic language and cultural practices so that troops gain the ability to interact with locals prior to deployment.

Microsoft has also been an innovator in this space, and is likely to have a large impact in the future. Microsoft’s Virtual Earth technology is being married to their Flight Simulator software program to provide greater realism at multiple scales so that those piloting simulated aircraft have a more realistic experience from the cockpit. I’ve heard that weather simulation is being added to replicate the Earth’s surface regardless of the time of year.

The next wave of advancements in gaming and geospatial modeling has to do with adding realism and levels of detail beyond simply outward appearances, such as:

  • modeling the interiors of buildings for seamless indoor/outdoor integration
  • physical interaction of individuals and mobile components, such as multi-modal transportation analysis
  • adding dynamic models such as weather and fluid flow
  • modeling changes in environments over time, such as seasons or the recognition of landscape changes
  • the integration of sensor inputs into 3D models for dynamic simulation with real-time inputs

Enhancing Education

Realistic models and simulation environments enhance education and retention of information. Adding experience to facts helps us retain those facts much more readily.

There’s been a long history of thought on simulations as a means to integrate scientific observations. The original discussion of the Digital Earth concept by Al Gore included a scenario where an individual would wear an electronic glove that would allow them to manipulate the many layers of a simulated globe to drill down and gain a better understanding of Earth system interaction.

There’s a degree of play that takes place now when manipulating the many layers represented in geographic exploration systems such as Google Earth, and the educational opportunities of these worlds haven’t been lost on educational institutions. The National Geographic Society, NASA and others were among the first to add layers to the digital globes, and continued contributions from non-profit organizations will continue to enhance our understanding of our world.

Influencing Action

Gaming is a simulation of an environment where there are stated goals and objectives and where our interaction with the simulated world has express impact on the game’s outcome. There is typical a great pace to the play that locks in our attention, and increasingly the games have become interactive with the development of ad-hoc teams that together tackle the games objectives.

The evolution of gaming to a more participatory and realistic environment, plays into the needs of the geospatial community. We are in need of greater realism, and the expanded demand of the gaming community means that there is a revenue stream to pay for the collection of more detailed and realistic models. The geospatial community is in need of more interdisciplinary interaction, and the creation of more collaborative gaming platforms could help pave the way for more interactive simulation environments that could be harnessed to understand earth systems.

The move to 3D, and more interaction within 3D environments, holds great promise. The relationship between the geospatial and gaming communities are mutually beneficial, and it is important that there be continued collaboration for the benefit of all.

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