Metadata Games is a project developed by Dartmouth College’s research laboratory, Tiltfactor. Mary Flanagan is the founding director, and the project received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies. The goal of the project is to create volunteer opportunities for creating essential metadata for digitized collections and archival material by providing a unique and engaging experience for their audience through video games.
The software used at Metadata Games is all open-source with no licensing fees or contracts, and customization is actively encouraged. Institutions using Metadata Games include The British Library, the University of California Irvine Library, the American Antiquarian Society, the Boston Public Library, the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, the Yale University Library, and more.
There are six games available currently, each playable either in a web browser or via a smartphone application. Each is different, offering users a variety of play styles – single and two-player, competitive, cooperative, timed, etc. Three additional games are specifically offered in collaboration with the British Library. All of the games involve presenting the player with a digitized image or document, from which they are then asked to provide single word or short phrase tags.
Tiltfactor defines the goals of Metadata Games as an initiate to create a suite of games that allows heritage organizations to gather metadata for their collections while promoting new public interaction with the materials. Their main challenges were in the creation of a game design that solicits and rewards accurate, specific tagging, while preventing game subversion.
OneUp, for example, is a two-player game that presents players with the same image. The players are rewarded points for each tag they enter. Further, there is an “accuracy bonus” for tags that already exist in the database. However, if one player enters a tag that their current opponent has already used, they receive a penalty. The accuracy bonus counters game subversion by discouraging useless or irrelevant tags, while the competitive aspect encourages creativity and specificity. Tiltfactor refers to this strategy as their “outlier design,” which aims to craft participant behavior such that the games produce accurate, not-obvious tags (the “holy grail” of metadata).
Tiltfactor provides their research and findings from the project on the Metadata Games website, in addition to a section of the site that, while it is still in beta, allows visitors to search a database of the tags created by the project to date. The interface is generally pleasant and the design is high quality, however, I encountered some freezing when browsing the website. I did not have much success with any of the two-player games, as the connection timed out each time which suggests to me that the site sees very little traffic. Also, I was unable to test the mobile app games due to a server error.
Overall, Metadata Games offers a unique strategy to tackle the costly and time intensive task of creating metadata for digital collections by essentially crowd-sourcing the process. The games are designed in order to produce high quality tags, and provide an enjoyable experience for the player, all of which is free and accessible to nonprofit institutions.