Sunday, April 22, 2007

Serious Games Project: Lost & Found

Serious Games to help find missing children

This girl is missing right now! National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children

Via: GameSpot UK

UK university project to be launched this week will allow people to use their cell phones to help track down abducted children.

Now mobile phone owners will be able to use their gadgets to help to locate missing children.

What if you could send and receive GPS-locator information about that child’s whereabouts, and mobilize support?

Professor Lizbeth Goodman, director of Smartlab Digital Media Institute at the University of East London, has been working on the technology for a serious game project called Lost & Found for "many years." The project was announced as part of the Women In Games 2007 event this week at the University of Wales.

Lost & Found--described as "a portable system to track missing and exploited children (and adults)"--works by using GPS and mapping technology within mobile phones. Users can, for example, sign up for alerts when someone goes missing in their area, and if they see someone who resembles a photo of a missing child, take a photo, which will alert authorities to the possibility that an abducted child is nearby. The game will also present people with a series of objectives and mobilize groups to block roads and search fields.

Approximately 800,000 children go missing in the US each year, and 77,000 in the UK. Current efforts to trace those missing children (as well as adults) are a good start, believes Goodman, but also ultimately forgettable. She said, "When you're drinking your milk in the morning there's always a picture of someone who is missing. But who can remember what the person on your milk carton looks like at the end of a busy day?"

When asked why the project is being classified as a game, Goodman said, "If it's a project that sounds worthy, or that there are cops involved, or that you have to hand over personal data, people aren't interested. But if we let them use an avatar, they're ok with that." 

The Web site adds, "Participants can see their own input... achieving success in finding lost community members, and [it will] change the nature of play, and the sense of responsibility it entails."

Partners for the Lost & Found project currently include the BBC R&D, Microsoft Research, The UK Serious Crimes Unit, and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (US).