Around the world something interesting is happening: Governments, and even a few private companies, are opening up huge stores of data they’ve been collecting over decades.
This shift is one towards harnessing the power of the masses, instead of relying on what an entity can achieve itself. For the first time, anyone with a computer and the Internet can access some of what their government produces and do something fantastic with it. There are two basic ways of making use of that data: make tools that offer up insight, or represent the data in some way which allows people to derive their own insights.
For the past four years at GovHack AU, the annual open government data hackathon held in Australia, civic hackers have been doing just that. GovHack AU includes over 2000 people who participate as a team or individual. They work to produce open source projects that use open data from Australian federal and state governments. Every year I’ve attended with my team, we’ve made a game with the data: appliances, political responsibilities, elected officials’ voting records, and news stories.
People like games, but don’t really understand data. If you can map the data to a game, people can learn about it without having to pour over reams of spreadsheets and XML documents. Making a game out of open data allows you take something useful, but inherently dull, and give it a fun skin. Essentially, making a game about open data is just a new way of visualising the data.
To begin making a game about open data, the approach is the same regardless of the desired result, and that is to find a theme that matches the data you are interested in. If you’re interested in the news API that the national broadcaster provides, a game about journalism or storytelling is going to be a better fit than a puzzle-platformer.