Monday, February 24, 2014

Gaming Family History

I had an idea last night.

Pop Quiz

In your scriptures, where on the page is John 3:16?

Right page, first column, near the top.  I know right where it is.  If you read the Bible, you likely do too (though it might be in a different spot in your scriptures).

The tangible page provides a frame of reference that jives well with my memory.  The same is not true of digital scriptures in their current state.

Driving v. Riding

The act of driving a car to a destination solidifies how to get there much more than simply riding in the car.  I'm not sure of all the reasons for this, but something about the tangible interaction makes it more memorable.

Alive Family

Before I met my (now) wife's family, I had a hard time remembering who was who when my wife would talk about them.  I couldn't remember who was married to who, what their kids were named or where they were from.  It was a big muddled puddle in my head.

But after I met them in person I didn't have trouble anymore.  (You'll be proud to know that I still know all the names of my in laws and their spouses and children).

After I'd met them, I had a reference.

Dead Family

I have a similar problem with the people in my own family that I've never met -- my ancestors who have long since passed.  But unlike my wife's family, I can't meet them in person.  I have no way to create a reference for remembering details about their lives.  To help provide some kind of reference people have made visualizations:

Pedigree chart
Fan chart
These charts make it easy to see the names and some vital data about a person's direct ancestors.  The first chart has details on 4 generations, while the second has basic information about 8 generations.  Both are excellent at emphasizing incomplete information: blanks are easy to see.  Both also have some deficiencies:
  1. Adding more generations requires exponential space.
  2. Limited space prevents showing siblings and descendants for each person.
  3. There are no photos or stories -- there's no life -- for these once-living, real people.
  4. The charts misrepresent time.  Not all my 4th great grandparents lived at the same time (but the chart leads me to think they did).  These people have an interesting solution for this.

2D v. 3D

Since a big limitation (and benefit) of paper is its 2D nature, I've tried to imagine how 3 dimensions might help.  3D printers are becoming more common.  Maybe you could print a family tree with detachable branches?  (Someone please do this!)

But a tangible 3D object will still become exponentially unwieldy at some point.


Another limitation (and benefit) of paper is that it is not interactive.  I can't "click" a link on a piece of paper to get more information.  The lack of interactivity is partially what enables the remembering-scripture-location trick, but the Internet and its hyperlinks have shown how valuable interaction can be.  Also, it's the very interaction while driving that makes a trip more memorable.

I think interaction will need to be part of a good solution.  All this leads me to:

Video Games

Before you balk, consider that people have done real things with video games, such as protein folding research.

Also consider all the ten-year-olds (and 30-year-olds) in your neighborhood who play Minecraft.

Have you watched them play?  (have you played yourself?)  If you haven't, go find someone who plays and watch them for a few minutes.  One thing you'll notice is that they know their way around the virtual world.  They know right where the secret door to their mansion is and where their sheep farm is.  They know this because of landmarks that provide reference and because of the memory of creating many of the world's interesting features.

My own personal village?

What if your family history was represented as village of houses in Minecraft?  There could be a cemetery with gravestones on the edge of town near the lake (complete with birth and death records).  You could visit your grandparents house over the hill to the east.  Inside you find pictures of them on their walls and books full of their stories.

Oh, you discovered the name of your 5th great uncle?  Build him a house by the quarry.

What about Earth?

There's a small problem with this Minecraft model.  If I (Matt) build the village, I will know where everything is, but no one else would know why I decided that Great Aunt Heloise's house should be on an island in the middle of a lava pit.  I could unintentionally (or intentionally) lose valuable information.

Incidentally, this problem is prevalent with people's personal piles of family research, organized (or not) according to their system and out of reach to everyone else.

So what if, instead of a fictitious virtual world, we used a fact-based virtual world: Earth?  An earth inhabited only with my ancestors and their descendants?

From Google Earth
There could be a gravestones on the earth in the spot where a person died, a house where they lived, a crib where they were born, etc...  In each home, there could be a list of children born to a couple; you select a person and the HUD will tune the compass to point toward significant places in a person's life.

And instead of clicking links to go from place to place, you walk or swim across the earth.  It wouldn't be practical to walk at the speed of a human, but you might lose the benefit of the memorable journey if you flew like bird.  Maybe you could grow to giant size, climb over mountains and jump over oceans?  Like an MMO, people could "play" at the same time and talk and collaborate.

There are lingering questions (e.g. what if we don't know where a person was born?) but it's a start.  And such a visualization of family history data wouldn't solve every problem, but it would certainly make it easier for me to remember.

Anyway, tell me what you think of the idea.