Attention gamers: Crowdsource disasters while playing your favorite online game

Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, speculated that hackers and transparency groups who support whistleblower Edward Snowden would turn to cyberattacks if the U.S. government “grabs” Snowden. Furthermore, Hayden classified those hackers and people who support government transparency as "nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years." That’s rude, especially since the U.S. government is desperately seeking hackers to help save the world by battening the cybersecurity hatches.

Hayden’s stereotypical remarks are also untrue and about as irritating as intelligence agencies and cops claiming that popular online games need to be secretly monitored because they are full of terrorists and gangs who are recruiting. Of course that might roll off the back of gamers who are quite accustomed to aggression and violent behavior in the real world being blamed on video games. But what if World of Warcraft or League of Legends players could change that negative view of gaming and save lives in the real world without needing to leave their games?

Internet Response League (IRL) wants to use the power of crowdsourcing to bring gamers to the rescue. IRL co-founders Peter Mosur and Patrick Meier point out that disasters happen daily, and each day there are more than half a billion people worldwide who play at least one hour of computer and video games. What if those gamers had helped out during Hurricane Sandy, sorting and tagging tweets based on urgency, or rating the half million Instagram photos by disaster damage?

Even if the crowdsourcing network of volunteers at Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) had worked 24/7 with no breaks, it would have taken them more than 100 hours—about five days—to sort through the 20 million tweets during Hurricane Sandy. IRL wrote, “In contrast, the 4 million gamers playing WoW (excluding China) would only need 90 seconds to do this. The 12 million gamers on League of Legends would have taken just 30 seconds. Facebook gamers would take less than 7 seconds.”

There is no catch, gamers; you wouldn’t even need to leave your game to help out. By using WoW as an example, gamers who opted in would see a little notification alert on the screen when a disaster happens. This could be upon logging in or during gameplay. “The message will give a brief description of what has happened, and will ask players to help out with the tagging.” No worries as you opt-in for these alerts, and you can disable them, as IRL wisely doesn’t want to annoy gamers.

World of Warcraft Internet Response League crowdsourcing disaster alert
World of Warcraft Internet Response League crowdsourcing in-game disaster alert

If you accept the invite, then you go to a “disaster tagging area” screen like the “rough concept” one below where you would tag the level of damage in an Instagram picture. You can choose to tag one or thousands, as many photos as you want, and exit back to the game whenever you want. “The tagging data will be sent to IRL and be used to create a live crisis map of disaster damage for disaster responders.”

A rough concept of World of Warcraft Internet Response League crowdsourcing in-game tagging screen

Gamers rewarded with shiny loot

If you are not motivated by the warm fuzzy feeling from doing good works, being a real-life hero potentially saving lives, then how about doing it for shiny rare loot? On the IRL Google Group, Mosur wrote, “One of the core concepts behind the Internet Response League is rewarding players with in-game items for participating in disaster relief efforts. While we hope that individual game companies will reward players, we want there to be rewards directly from IRL which could be redeemed in any participating game platform. The idea is to create an ‘IRL Score,’ which will count the amount of pictures that a user has tagged.” The most elite humanitarian gamers might be rewarded with rare armor, but even the beginner humanitarian gamer would receive a reward.

Gamers are competitive and if someone has an awesome score, or is wearing spectacular and rare armor that he/she acquired via IRL crowdsourcing, then another gamer is going to want it and set out to be elite enough to win that reward. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Mosur told me:

We definitely plan to attract people who are simply after the shiny loot in games, since that is the majority of gamers anyway. The idea as it currently stands is to give rewards to players based on how many images they tag. Things like player titles, emblems, tabards, mounts, and even armor, all IRL themed (logo and everything), would definitely keep people coming back, especially if we make it competitive (only the top percent get the coolest armor and mounts). It is in essence purely gamification, but we feel that it is justified since it is encouraging people to do good in the world.

Right now, IRL is looking for game developers, graphics designers, or someone with stunning ideas to help create a web plugin with the basic requirements of:

A) Notify players when there is a disaster occurring and ask them if they would like to help out.

B) Create an ‘area’ for gamers to be able to tag disaster photos.

C) Ask players to sign-up/login in order to receive rewards.

When I asked about the plug-in and platforms, Mosur told me:

We are indeed developing a plugin at the moment. Basically we want this to be something that game developers could take a look at and possibly figure out a way to incorporate it into their game. Currently it is still very early in its development, but we definitely plan on going public with it in the near future.

Steam, X-box Live, PlayStation Network, Minecraft and even Facebook (via Zynga games), etc. would all be amazing platforms to host this humanitarian work! One of the ideas we even have is to pitch them all against each other in a sort of "which community can do the most good" competition. We are currently trying to find ANY game developer willing to test out our idea on their game platform so that we can move this project along! We simply use WoW as an example because, well, it makes for a great example! 

I’d love to see Valve/Steam or Xbox step up, but Facebook is a big believer in “the hacker way.” In the same way that not all hackers who support Snowden are basement dwellers who would carry out cyberattacks if he is arrested, not all gamers are violent and uncaring about real-world disasters.

Come on, game developers, volunteer to test it! You can offer players a chance to be a hero in real life without ever leaving your game. This is a splendid idea that would help break the typical negative stereotypes of gamers while also building a better reputation outside the gaming industry. Imagine moms buying more games and encouraging their children to play more often as the game has a stellar record of helping during real-world disasters. In the end, wouldn’t that mean better sales? 

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