Tag Archives: Humanitarian Aid

The Internet Response League: Pokemon Division?



Pokemon GO is an interesting phenomenon – it is extremely relevant to the ideas posted on this blog, and to gamification in general. To start, the gameplay involves going outside, physically tracking down pokemon (think digital animals), and then catching them. The simple fact of compelling video gamers to go outside and exercise has astounded many people.

The game is based on Augmented Reality (AR), which is a technology in its infancy. The focus is on the graphical overlay, which takes imagery/text/animation and superimposes it upon your surroundings via a camera. Apps were created that allow you to view advertising and menus outside of restaurants, translate text in real time,  and even track down star constellations that may be hiding from your eye. While Pokemon Go also relies heavily on overlaying pokemon onto your surroundings, I believe that the highly overlooked feature in most AR apps is the GPS tracking your location.

If you play the game, you quickly realize that how well you do depends on your location in the world (and the cellular data usage around you – to the dismay of many a Pokemon trainer living outside a city). Even more so, the Pokemon exist outside in the world in distinct locations, forcing players to track them down physically using the Pokemon Go app as a navigation system.


The map of your surroundings that Pokemon Go utilizes is actually the Google Maps engine.

So to recap – if you peel back the layer of Pokemon, this game simply has people searching for points on a map. The simplicity of it is truly a marvel, while the potential to expand upon it is almost limitless. While technology like this can certainly cause trouble, as I’ll explain a bit later, it also has the potential for tremendous good. Read the following hypothetical example:

A fire breaks out in a town, and the local fire department needs pictures of it as rapidly as possible so that it can plan a more directed response. So it asks the creators of Pokemon Go to spawn a certain rare Pokemon, let’s say Pikachu, at the fire. All the nearby Pokemon trainers are then alerted of the Pikachu’s presence and hurry to the scene of the fire to catch it. The images, or even video, that the AR system on each player’s phone is utilizing, is then live streamed to the fire department, who would then use the data to create a 3D model of the scene of the fire as it’s happening.

This example is surely outlandish, not only because a Pikachu would have no reason to hang out in a burning building (a Charizard maybe more likely), but also more importantly because it would obviously pose a large hazard to oblivious Pokemon GO players. It’s been stated on this blog that if the in-game reward is large enough, dedicated players might be willing to do almost anything to obtain it (braving a fire is probably only even a slight exaggeration). Combined with GPS technology, what you have is a powerful tool that incentivizes people to travel to certain locations. Now here’s another, safer, example of how this idea could be utilized:

A local group has organized a day for volunteers to gather and clean up the town park. This group however has also asked the creators of Pokemon GO to spawn more pokemon at the park than usual on this day. Surely this will attract any serious pokemon trainers in the neighborhood. And while they are already incentivized to remain in the area, the efforts of the local group can hopefully also sway them to pitch in and clean up the park a bit during their stay. Perhaps this local group can even work out a deal where they are authorized by the Pokemon Go creators to hand out in-game rewards, such as items or experience.

In the more distant future we’ll even get points for each individual piece of trash we pick up, but until that technology arrives I think cases like the above would prove fascinating interactions. Many people who have played the game have definitely had similar concepts cross their mind in relation to local businesses – more specifically the idea that a company can pay the creators of Pokemon GO to generate Pokemon at their establishments or events in order to attract more customers. While the capitalistic aspect will hopefully garner more interest and support for the technology, the potential social good applications are unique in that they have a chance to revolutionize community volunteering and engagement.

You don’t have to play Pokemon Go to observe the herds of children, teenagers, and even adults standing around in public spaces playing this game. Not only does this simple fact alone make these spaces safer for all, but imagine now if the game asked these people to interact further. What if collaboration, for a wide number of plausible reasons, on a tiny local scale, could be incentivized on a grand scale using AR game technology? One minute you are playing Pokemon Go, the next you have a met a stranger in your neighborhood and are planning ways to practice first aid, or even actively providing aid to an individual while an ambulance is on route. All in the name of advancing one’s self in an imaginary world. One could picture governments around the world  experimenting with AR as a means for civic duties in the future.

Unfortunately, another way in that governments will be interested in this technology, but most likely for good reason, is regulation. The ability to direct the movements of people in the real world is a serious responsibility. Already cases have sprung up of people trespassing, crashing their vehicles, and even being targeted for robbery while playing Pokemon GO. Even if the Pokemon are placed responsibly, certain users of the app will abuse that to commit theft or even worse, as popular spots are noted equally on everyone’s screen. What form this type of regulation will take shape is anyone’s guess, but there certainly will be plenty of trial and error. Even at the time of writing, the feature in Pokemon GO that allowed you to actively track Pokemon has been disabled (it wasn’t working correctly), and so players are now simply forced to randomly come across Pokemon. A new tracking system is being tested, but perhaps the change was made as a result of the developers fearing lawsuits? While one would think it is ultimately the player’s responsibility to avoid trouble, as these AR games become more and more engaging, this assumption will certainly become blurred.


The pokemon appear in the “real world”.

The last point that needs to be made about Pokemon GO is it’s use of popular culture to achieve success. The game which preceded Pokemon GO, Ingress, has gained much less popularity, despite being almost the same game but with much more features. Could it be that popular fantasy worlds have a growing influence on the public acceptance of a technology?

In the late 1990’s Pokemon was a cultural phenomenon among children and teenagers. Now most of these individuals are adults and their interest in the series has been newly rekindled by Pokemon GO. It has even attracted the attention of many individuals who never gave it a chance the first time (or are now forced to chaperone their children around as they capture pokemon). One can imagine that in another 20 years that the cultural saturation of Pokemon will be almost complete, meaning that the rewards for continuing to play the game will become more and more relevant in the world.

Imagine a future where people, who don’t have the the time to go hunting pokemon themselves, actively buy rare pokemon from others to complete a collection, for battle, or even simply as a status symbol. Others could ideally be able to make a living by volunteering locally, or better yet travelling the world volunteering, and engaging in the global pokemon trade (a dream for any person who has played a Pokemon game).

Lastly, Pokemon is but one example. How will popular fantasy worlds such as Star Wars, Warcraft, Marvel, or countless others affect technological and social progress in the future? The potential for good is tremendous if handled responsibly. Now imagine this final Pokemon Go application:

An earthquake has just struck and people are in need of help. People who are at the scene and are unharmed can assist by scouting around – taking pictures and video (and capturing pokemon). This can then be streamed to volunteers sitting at home, who identify damaged buildings and infrastructure (receiving items or experience). The resulting analyzed video/imagery is sent to local emergency relief forces, who then in turn ask local pokemon trainers, perhaps trained in first aid, to assist nearby first responders or even directly rescue people (gaining large amounts of experience or even rare pokemon). In the months following the earthquake, local trainers can volunteer in reconstruction, humanitarian aid, or disaster mitigation and preparedness efforts (gaining more experience, items, or pokemon).

Pokemon Go players would not only be actively helping out communities, but also would be acquiring valuable new skills, either through volunteering, or as a prerequisite to doing so. Rather than simply seen as people loitering in public places, players could be seen as upstanding citizens among their neighbors, who devote their time and energy not only to a fantasy world – but to the bettering of the real world as well. All it would take is a bit social ingenuity, perhaps some government or economic incentivization, and of course the continued success of a particular Japanese cartoon world.

screen shot 2016-01-25 at 12.52.59 pm.png

How will AR look in 20 years?

If you’re interested in any of the ideas on this blog, have interesting ideas of your own, are interested in collaborating, or simply want to say hi, please feel free to reach out to us at contact@internet-response-league.com

Internet Response League 2.0

Dear gamers,

As we wrote in our previous post, we have a change in store for the Internet Response League. Originally, IRL was conceptualized as an in-game humanitarian aid volunteering platform, that would utilize player rewards to encourage participation. As we see now though, this goal in its entirety is a bit too ambitious.

The idea of housing the IRL platform within games is impractical and unnecessary. Successfully implemented, it would only save the users small amounts of time and effort, yet the trade-offs are steep, mainly for any of IRL’s potential partners.

Video game worlds are specifically crafted to be fun, interesting, and engaging fantasy environments, that keep players coming back for whatever reason. Introducing an outside application, especially one that exposes users to real-world disaster situations, would largely break the fantasy, something which game developers try very hard not to do.  

At first we believed that we could somehow leave the fantasy intact by toying with the game lore or by slightly modifying the humanitarian tasks (see the Eve Online case). We’ve since realized this to be very challenging. The amount of modification needed to have the tasks fit would distort them to a point where the work would no-longer be helpful to aid organizations. Perhaps other types of micro-tasks may yet be implemented successfully (see the work being done by MMOS), but in today’s world global disasters simply have no place inside of people’s play time.

So, we have a solution:

We will modify our website to house the Internet Response League platform, where users will be able to volunteer their time digitally in humanitarian scenarios. We will find game developer partners who will pledge rewards to the users of the IRL platform, who in turn will be able to represent their favorite game.

With this plan, we won’t be intruding on anyone’s play time. Instead we will welcome everyone to come volunteer as they choose, allowing them to gain rewards in their favorite game in the process. We will do our best to spread the word, but we also think that game developers will naturally like to increase their representation, encouraging their users to help out.

We will start building our site and implementing the volunteer tasking system with the help of our partner MicroMappers. See the below mock-up for an idea of how we envision the main page. If you’re interested in helping, feel free to contact us at contact@internet-response-league.com.

Many thanks for reading!


Eve Online Lessons Learned

Hello readers!

Back in April we announced a collaboration with MMOS and CCP Games. The idea was to insert humanitarian work into EVE Online. While we shared many ideas collectively, ultimately we came to the conclusion that the humanitarian use-case was not compatible with EVE Online after all. Naturally we are disappointed, but we did gain valuable insight as to IRL’s future. In addition, the challenge we faced and our attempt to overcome it we feel were quite interesting, so we decided to write about them.

The challenge, as we mentioned in our previous blog post, entailed fitting our humanitarian micro-tasks into a fully fledged video game environment. In this case EVE Online, a game world set in a far-distant galaxy, many thousands of years after earth has been destroyed, and all knowledge of it has been forgotten. With this in mind, inserting images of post-disaster devastation from earth would be a slight stretch for the game-lore, one that the game developers are not willing to let slide.

Originally we thought that we could spin the lore somehow to state that artifacts from Earth turned up in the EVE Online world, only to be explicitly told that the gateway/wormhole to Earth was destroyed, that there’s no feasible way of contacting Earth’s solar system, and that the ensuing years of struggling to survive erased the planet from everyone’s memory.

With that in mind we figured that the disaster images that we planned to use in the micro-tasking must now originate from the alien planets that inhabit the EVE Online universe. It was also stated that the images that we use could not resemble Earth in any way. So now our task was to have them appear “alien”.

The idea which instantly popped into our minds was to warp the images. However, actually taking the image and changing its contents would not work, since the micro-tasks rely on tagging the locations of objects in the pictures. Any serious warping would distort the accuracy of the results on our end. There was one idea however that did stick out.

Why not simply change the color of the images? The effect would essentially look like adding a filter to a photo, but with freedom to create unique color combinations. After a few initial tests in Photoshop, we discovered that aerial imagery, looking down at the earth, actually creates natural contrast between buildings and the surrounding ground/foliage. Changing the color curve  did not seem to affect a users ability to tag buildings, but on the contrary actually caused the buildings to stand out more so than normally.

As we intended, some of the color curves drastically changed the look of the pictures, some of them with rather alien and sci-fi looking results. For example, a color curve could be applied that made the images look like they where taken using infrared sensors. We thought that this would be perfect for fitting the images into EVE Online, where a vast amount of sci-fi technology exists and lore could be built around the tagging.

The lore could state that these images were taken on martian planets, using advanced sensors not known to humans today. And on our end, we could quickly use batch processes in Photoshop to apply color curves to entire sets of images quickly and easily. It seemed like a surefire win at the time!

Alas, there was one inescapable fact that remained. While color shifted, these images still contained imagery from Earth, from Vanuatu in particular for our proposal. Things such as palm trees and cars were clearly visible, albeit a different color.

The EVE Online lore states that the humans who were not killed when portal to Earth collapsed managed to survive on the planets that they had already begun terraforming. According to Wikipedia, “Terraforming (literally, “Earth-shaping”) of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life”.

We basically made the assumption that these terraformed planets would resemble earth, in terms of foliage, technology such as automobiles, and even architecture. Unfortunately it seems that this is not the case, and thus our proposal still did not fit within the EVE Online game world after all.

This experience definitely allowed us to re-evaluate the purpose of IRL. We have some ideas which we will share in the future, but for now we hope that our proposal to EVE Online and the thought processes behind it prove to be interesting. We’ve added some of the color shifted photos from our proposal below as well. We thought that some of them came out pretty neat.


IRL in Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 (TF2) will be the game to kick off this series. While it may not be the most played title currently released by Valve Corporation, it certainly can be considered their most iconic, especially when considering its unique in-game economy. This is an excellent place to start and provide some general examples.

TF2 is a first-person shooter (FPS) action game from 2007 with cartoon graphics and an economy that was valued at over $50 million. [1] It is important to note here that this is not money that Valve has earned from the game, but rather the total value of time and money that players have invested into the game to increase the quality of their play. Hats are considered the most valuable asset in the game, offering nothing more than visual appeal (and hilarity). Some of the rarer hats, which are randomly found by players, can reach ludicrous price tags. One example is the “Burning Flames Team Captain” which was priced at over $5,000 in March of last year. [2] [3]

Burning Flames Team Captain

The implications that these facts have for IRL are incredible. It means that there is a large community of gamers playing TF2 that are willing to invest their time and/or money to obtain these virtual objects. The game itself is free to play nowadays, and since time is a factor that can be used to obtain every single item, there is no actual monetary value to Valve. The company does offer most of the common items for sale to players, which accounts for their profit, but the most valuable items, such as the Burning Flames Team Captain, are only obtained randomly by lucky players. These players can then trade these rare items to other players for items with real world value, and Valve sees none of this value. This means that Valve is willing to create and facilitate content for this economy which they do not directly benefit from.

So if players can trade these valuable items among themselves for real-world value (completely at Valve’s expense), then why not incorporate a system where these players can earn items through volunteer work (where Valve could see some actual value)? Simply enabling this type of interaction would qualify as a (very efficient) form of social responsibility. While Valve may not gain anything anything monetarily, the long term benefits in terms of publicity should be more than worth the effort.

This example can become even more detailed (and hypothetical). For example, there could be a few different hats designated for different levels of IRL commitment. There would be the standard hat, which most people would own with a minimal amount of time spent volunteering. However for those that choose to go above and beyond, spending a significant amount of time participating would reward you a special edition hat. For each deployment, this special edition hat would change, meaning that these hats would become very rare and valuable (assuming they would be trade-able). This could potentially drive IRL participation sky high, as the rewards become increasingly sought after collectibles. If this happened, Valve would see a massive surge of press and good will on their behalf.

These are all unfortunately just ideas for now. Turning a free-to-play game into a humanitarian volunteer machine would be an unprecedented feat, and a worthy challenge for any company. There are obviously many different ways that this could happen, and it is my hopes that this type of discussion will spur Valve Corporation and other video game companies to try out this innovative method of social responsibility.

As always, please contact us if you have questions/comments, would like to work with us, or would simply like to say hi! The next post will focus on another video game. See you then!





1. Good, Owen (17 December 2011). “Analyst Pegs Team Fortress 2 Hat Economy at 50 Million”. Kotaku. Retrieved 8/20/2014.

2. “Burning Flames Team Captain Item Information”. backpack.tf. Retrieved 8/20/2014.

3. “TF2 Earbuds Price”. TF2 Finance. Retrieved 8/20/2014.

IRL Ideas/Recap

Hello everyone, the test phase is still in the works! The partners with whom we will be working with are still in the process of readying the images for use. In the meantime, we figured we would bring you some content in the form of ideas.

The Internet Response League has the potential of assuming many unique forms depending on the specific video game companies that choose to participate. What may work for a MMORPG may not work for an FPS. With that in mind, over the next few weeks we will bringing you posts that detail the possible ways in which individual game franchises could incorporate IRL.

For this week, a quick recap of the basics of the Internet Response League:

  • Humanitarian organizations need large amounts of volunteers to help tag media immediately during/after a disaster.
  • Video game companies have large and persistent player-bases that could be enticed to help out with in-game rewards.
  • The motivation for the video game companies to participate and reward their players includes publicity, social responsibility, and potential bragging rights.

These are the basic pillars that the Internet Response League rests upon. There are many ways that these ideas could manifest themselves in real-life, and we invite you to help think of any that we may miss!

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda Update

After a rigorous five days of crisis mapping, volunteers from all around the world made a total of 105,000 individual tags on the MicroMappers applications. These volunteers, from locales such as Belgium, Boston, Kenya, Australia, South Africa, Brooklyn, Canada, France, Spain, Qatar, Germany, the Philippines, Holland, and Denmark among others, sacrificed a small bit of their time because they wanted to do more than just listen to the news. They came together to help; resulting in around 600 relevant tweets and 180 usable images, that were deemed fit to populate the live Crisis Maps. Still as I write, these maps are being used to help with everything from rescue work to damage assessment in the Philippines, and can be seen at this link.

With all of this amazing news, we must realize that this was one of the first instances of volunteer crisis mapping ever conducted. Already, we can see that there is overwhelming proof that people are willing to spend some time to help out a disaster stricken area, “World Wide (Good) Will” as Patrick Meier puts it. These types of responses can only get better: they can be quicker, more accurate, and even more specialized. One day, volunteers will be able to complete complex tasks at the scene of a disaster right from the comfort of their home. For all of this, we recruit the expertise of the video-game community. Together, we know that we would be able to dominate any disaster event, and create a more prepared and victorious world community.

The Internet Response League is still looking for Game Developers to partner with to test our ideas. Please help spread to word to friends, family, and members or your favorite gaming community. Additionally we are looking to build a robust humanitarian-gamer culture. Please read this post to learn more.

IRL Plugin Demo

As the work on the Internet Response League Plugin continues, we’ve decided to record a video demo, showcasing some of the ideas that we’ve had in development. The video is below for you viewing pleasure.

Please note that this is still a work in progress.If you are interested in helping out, feel free to contact us at our email (contact@internet-response-league.com) or join us at our Google Group (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/internet-response-league).