Fusion Games and Apps Campaign

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Posted by Rezwan Razani on Nov 10, 2011 at 09:55 AM
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We are all characters in a dynamic, interactive reality right now, called “The Quest for Fusion”.  By becoming conscious of the gameful aspects of the situation, we can develop tools to bring about epic wins in energy.  This is not to trivialize the pursuit of fusion, but to bring the skills of the emerging “entertainment-industrial complex” to bear.

Our Intentions

We will bring fusion innovators and game & app designers together to break the fusion challenge down into workable steps; to leverage information and gaming technology in support of mankind’s quest for epic energy wins.  We plan to design some games and apps ourselves, but mostly to create the conditions to enable, inspire and support other people’s design initiatives and exploration.

This campaign will integrate with the policy, finance, culture, story, education, and consumer products campaigns. 

We don’t simply seek the “gamification” of fusion problems or the creation of click monkeys.  We are looking at a range of games and apps that function on different levels, appeal to different demographic groups and have different, complementary objectives, ranging from fun to serious mission level problem solving and decision support. 

Assumptions:

  1. Video Games are driving tech innovations.  Andy Kessler (WSJ, Jan, 2011) notes that the military used to lead in the development of technology that ultimately ends up in homes and offices.  “Computers were created during WWII to calculate artillery firing and to break codes”.  GPS and microwaves were derived from government acquisition programs and so forth.  But in recent years, the source of some of the state of art advances in technology has been video games.  “The same features that allow distant gamers to join forces against trolls in World of Warcraft are bound to show up in the business world soon, enabling “traders or marketers” to collaborate more efficiently.  The “entertainment-industrial complex” not only has access to the capital required to make technological leaps, it also has the support of millions of consumers who make such investments pay off.
  2. The world is facing urgent problems in energy.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the energy crisis, climate change, war for oil?  Energy solutions are urgently needed, but energy research is grossly under-funded.  Few are willing to take the risks associated with research, even though the benefits would accrue to everyone.  It’s a big, hairy collective action and information signal problem.
  3. Games are ideal tools to help conceptualize and solve complex, collective action problems.  Jane McGonigal makes an excellent case for leveraging the power of games to save the world.  We’ve attached a summary of her TED talk here
  4. Energy problems have excellent game potential:  Consider.  We are all characters in a dynamic, interactive reality right now, called “The Quest for Fusion”, which is part of a broader reality of the “Quest for Ultimate, Sustainable Energy Solutions”.  By becoming conscious of the collaborative gamifiable aspects of the situation, we can set up games and gaming tools to bring about epic wins in energy.
  5. Avoiding the Mass Exodus to Virtual Worlds:  The alternative to leveraging games is to lose valuable intellectual capital to the world of fantasy.  Edward Castronova warns that what we are experiencing today is a “Mass exodus to virtual worlds”.  “Virtual worlds have exploded out of online game culture and now capture the attention of millions of ordinary people: husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, workers, retirees. Devoting dozens of hours each week to massively multiplayer virtual reality environments (like World of Warcraft and Second Life), these millions are the start of an exodus into the refuge of fantasy, where they experience life under a new social, political, and economic order built around fun. Given the choice between a fantasy world and the real world, how many of us would choose reality?” 
  6. “Gov 2.0” Government is evolving to better leverage information and collaborative technologies: “Government is, at bottom, a mechanism for collective action. We band together, make laws, pay taxes, and build the institutions of government to manage problems that are too large for us individually and whose solution is in our common interest.  Government 2.0, then, is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city, state, national, and international level.”  Those drawn to the “Gov 2.0” model seek to make government data available to the public to feed the design of a broad range of applications that clear up the information signal, reduce transaction costs and increase creative collaboration.  A number of interesting institutions and organizations are developing around these functions. 
  7. Energy information signals require sophisticated data processing:  Given the collective action problem around energy, a clear, dynamic, accurate energy information signal is required for decision making.  Unfortunately, the signal is easily distorted.  However, the tools exist (data, algorithms, hardware and software) to enable advanced manipulation of complex information, enabling dynamic comparisons and perspective on the issues.  Link to “Energy League & Brackets
  8. Collaborative games vs. Zero Sum Games:  Douglas Rushkoff makes a useful distinction between war games, which operate on a zero sum philosophy and are designed to end when someone “wins” (gets all the resources) vs. collaborative games which are designed not to end.  Corporations are often infected by the zero sum war games model, as are most battles for research money and budgets.  This leads to “rent-seeking” monopolistic behavior which is detrimental to innovation.  Fortunately, the emerging generation is one that has growing experience and affinity for multi player collaborative games.  As this translates into real world norms of practice, it could have a profound effect on the way business is conducted.
  9. Reinforcing the Research Ethic:  Games are inherently exploratory, and using them in context with fusion research themes underscores the ethic of experimentation.

Suggested Games:

An “Experimental Device” Approach:

In support of the pursuit of fusion, we will begin with a trilogy of flash based games, and a social game for online interactive use.  These games will take an “experimental device” approach for the several reasons:

  • An experimental device approach helps people realize there is more than one way to approach fusion.  The “fusion parameter space” allows for conceptually different machines. 
  • The game devices will be associated with their real experimental counterparts, creating better recognition and support of actual research endeavors, and enabling people to track their favorite fusion projects. 
  • A device-based approach gives you a hands on gizmo to play with.  This could be a virtual, or a physical model.  This gives you a connection to fusion.  It gives you instant gratification.  As you get comfortable with fusion, you can drill deeper into the underlying physics.  In other words, we want to start with the gut level and emotional-tactile bonds, then work our way out to the abstract intellectual stuff. 

We hope our experimental device approach can be used as a model for other energy experimental devices. 

Fusion Flash Game Trilogy:

Taking an “Experimental Device Approach” to fusion game design, we will develop the Fusion Flash Game Trilogy.

  1. Part I.  Build an experimental device: This game lets you “build” a device – drag and drop pieces to assemble a reactor. The “hands on” experience will help you “get” the device and not be intimidated.  It will all start to make sense and you will have picked up valuable conceptual skills for appreciating many other electrical devices.  Extra fun: you get to choose your scientist avatar and enjoy the tinkering. 
  2. Part II.  Trouble Shoot a fusion device:   Unlike the movies, fusion research projects involve regular shut downs for some reason or other (crankiness?).  After you’ve put together your device, you get to “run” it, and see if everything is connected properly, make sure it’s working.  This gives a better understanding of electricity, mechanics, gas systems.  Are all your wires connected properly?  Are there any shorts?  Find the gas leak.  Does anything get fried when you run certain voltages through it? 
  3. Part III. Fusion Experiments:  Now that your device is working, you get to push it forward in the pursuit of fusion!  Here you add in the instruments to measure fusion yields, and run tests with different voltages, gas pressure and types.  You test for fusion, change parameters, measure fusion output.  Ideally, this will be dynamically linked to real world data – you can download changes in the parameters based on actual data in real world experiments.  This game lets you experience the experimental process and develop the problem solving and thinking skills of a scientist.  Advanced:  Someone may actually come up with insight into how to proceed that provides feedback to the actual experiment.

Fusionville, located in Energyville

 
Fusionville is inspired by “Farmville” – a social game on Facebook, except that you aren’t building a farm, you’re building your fusion reactor.  As with farmville, the main payoff for players is social connection and bonding.  The payoff for fusion researchers is that the game will build awareness, appreciation and affection for the fusion endeavor.  Similar to the flash games above, this game requires assembly of fusion experimental devices – the idea is to increase the options and also help people differentiate various fusion approaches.  The game can go beyond fusion by letting you plug into a “grid”.  It can also be integrated with other energy sources as well (“windville, solarville, frackingville”).  You can build in an algorithm requiring a certain amount of energy for the communities you build to keep going (of course, you can also conserve energy).  Algorithm changes can be based on events in real world, with notification to be provided with links to energy news.  The games can be as simple or sophisticated as desired.

Other Energy Themed Games that relate to our objectives:

The fusion effort is often criticized as too impractical or far away to be a valid energy solution.  Fusion requires long term thinking, commitment and portfolio diversification.  To make the case for fusion, to get it a seat at the table of energy conferences, it helps to integrate the pursuit of fusion into the broader energy endeavor.  This brings us face to face with the collective action and information signal problems that plague the energy sector as a whole.  Energy solutions don’t exist in a vacuum.  Each energy approach is part of a larger system.  This system is hard to comprehend.  Our fusion apps and games are designed with this larger energy problem in mind, and can be a model for the sector as a whole.  If we can navigate our way through virtual simulations of our energy systems and various energy sources and probabilities, we will be in a better position to make decisions and optimize our energy future.

  1. Energy League and Brackets Campaign (App):  This is something for the whole energy community.  Each energy supply approach is one division of the energy league.  Champions will arise.  It is a valuable tool in the energy solution endeavor. By initiating this app we will put the quest for fusion in context with the quest for energy solutions.  The app benefits all as it builds collaboration and good will between different energy “champions.”  Link to Energy Brackets App.
  2. BPU 100 – The Energy Grid Game:  This game is inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Board of Public Utilities.  The people behind our utilities have the daunting task of providing energy on demand to consumers who don’t really understand how energy works.  Utilities have to balance peak and base loads and keep things flowing around the grid.  In this game, we randomly generate problems typically faced by utilities (a line down, a surge here, power plant mishap, disgruntled employee) and allow players to respond.  For excitement, terrorists or Enron executives can keep trying to destabilize the grid.  Our crack team of ninja BPU workers have to show up on the scene and fix things, climbing up poles, going down into tunnels, battling giant mutant rats, etc. 
  3. Zero Sum Research Game:  (Inspired by my 11 year old nephew)  This game illustrates the current energy research climate.  In this game, various researchers battle for budgets and supplies to carry out research.  At the lower levels, the game is very zero sum.  Special interests prevail. You have to beat up other scientists to get the supplies to carry out your own research.  You steal from their devices in progress, cannibalizing parts.  The game illustrates the transition from zero sum to collaborative efforts in the higher levels by letting you install “policy packs” or “investment packs” or “investment policy packs” that enable more resource flow and better collaboration.  This game is related to the “mind the Churn” game.  Both seek to reveal the implicit “prisoners dilemma” – the ways in which the game is set up to encourage us to betray each other rather than seek optimal, collective solutions.
  4. Mind the Churn:  “Churn” is widely applied in business with respect to a contractual customer base (“churn rate is a measure of the number of individuals or items moving into or out of a collective over a specific period of time” – Wikipedia).  In the realm of energy innovation, changes in policy and technology affect the price and supply of energy, and have a big impact on investments in energy – usually increasing the risk.  What are the policies (rules of investment) in energy?  How do changes in policy or technology affect investment?  Set this up as a game to see the shocks and better understand the risks and hesitancies in energy investment.  Perhaps by running through this game a few times we can come up with policies that optimize investment and innovation.  This game also takes note of fears of irrelevance, and fears of job loss.  As a corollary, we can do the “Jobs” game.  Because “Work doesn’t create value, it creates cost.  Value is in the eye of the beholder” (Rudy Fristch).  Churn also looks at rentseeking behavior and “gaming” the system. 
  5. Energy Leak, Gain = Q, (App):  This app will be an important tool to provide information for the energy league brackets.  In getting energy from the source to the user, losses occur at every point of the process.  The measure of loss is a measure of energy efficiency.  This game follows energy from a variety of sources to a variety of users.  You begin with the fuel source and its intrinsic energy potential (energy per unit of mass or, in the case of solar and wind, per surface area).  Add to this the (in)efficiency of the power plants/ energy capture units and the inefficiency of converting energy from one source to another (heat to electricity).  Further losses occur upon distribution – the more remote the source of energy, the greater the distribution losses.  Finally, the energy gets to your home and you end up wasting a lot of it, or your appliances are not as efficient as they could be.  This app helps quantify all those losses and efficiencies at every step so you can quickly compare energy sources, power plants, and the efficiency of your own lifestyle.  You beat other players by finding the most efficient paths to get certain work done.  This game can also track and envision gains from research advancements.  It can also help quantify targets for improvement by showing how much something needs to improve to be competitive with something else.  This can be broken down to any level of components.  How much does a certain component of the system need to improve to increase the gain?  What research is being done on that component?  What are the projections?  This data will be linked to real world data.  This can be a sophisticated investment and policy making tool. 
  6. Currency and Currency App:  If we’re going to talk about financing energy research, we need to talk about finance – which is just another form of currency.  Electrical currency and financial currency – how do they compare?  This app models an electrical system (appliance, scaling up to household, scaling up to grid) – to let you see the flows and losses of energy.  In parallel, we get a model of currency flows in an economic system (individual, from the point of receiving his paycheck, to where that money goes, scaling up to a business, a city, a country, the global economy).  Few people understand either electricity or currency flows in an economy.  This may be a perfect way to grasp both.  Also – introduce new currency – the bitcoin or ven, and the implications of changing the economic currency algorithms. 
  7. Subsidy Tracker App:  Who is subsidizing whom in energy?  This simulation follows the tortured subsidies and will reveal who the true free riders are of our energy system.  The answers may shock you.  (See “optimal mobility vs. automobility”)
  8. Nuclear know how:  Quizes on nuclear dangers.  Helps you rank various power plants and their various toxicity. 
  9. NIMBY-meter:  A NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) assessment game.  Find a backyard in which NIMBY doesn’t apply.  This game works for every energy approach, as nuclear energy is not the only type of energy to face NIMBY wrath (See “Project No Project”). 

 

 

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