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Cornell Strategy Game Promotes Collaborative Discovery

Where in the world are we?

That’s the question posed to players in StreetCrowd, a collaborative, multiplayer discovery game that virtually drops a team of remote explorers into a single location within Google Street View and asks them to identify – as closely as possible – where they are.

A research project developed by Cornell Computer Science PhD student Vlad Niculae, Info Science Assistant Professor Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, CS undergraduate student Daniel Garay and CS M.Eng student Neil Parker, StreetCrowd was re-released this week and can be played at www.StreetCrowd.us.

 “The goal with StreetCrowd was to figure out a fun way to engage people to work in teams and collaboratively solve problems together,” Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil said. In StreetCrowd, “Everyone contributes something. Everyone has different knowledge of geography.”

“StreetCrowd encourages opinion,” Niculae added. “There’s more room for debate than in, say, rather close-ended multiple choice questions.”

So how does it work?

Once logged in and automatically assigned to a team, each player has three minutes to click around the surrounding terrain on their own, drawing clues from the physical environment, all in hopes of identifying the group’s virtual location.  Then, each player makes their best educated guess before rejoining their teammates in a chat format to collaborate on findings and decide on a collective answer within the allotted time.

StreetCrowd plays off the developers’ fascination with Google Street View – which Niculae calls “a fun way to look at the world” – in that the location gradually presents itself to players. Only after navigating the environment and sharing found clues does the team near the real answer, he said.

The collaborative nature of StreetCrowd was put on display during a recent game in which Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and two teammates found themselves navigating a wide waterway with little in the way of visual clues to provide geographic context, like signage or even notable architecture. Reconvening as a group, a fellow teammate explained via chat that he had clicked his way onto the virtual shore and spotted several houseboats with what appeared to be locals of Hispanic descent. That information helped the team narrow its focus. After more discussion, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil’s band of explorers decided on a location along the Amazon River. The group’s choice was within a few hundred miles of the exact location, which is about as close as StreetCrowd players can come to a correct answer.

Limiting team sizes to no more than five players, StreetCrowd participants achieve “Street cred” based on how close their individual and team guesses are to the actual location.

“It's been very rewarding to get to play with our friends and get higher and higher on the leaderboard,” Niculae said. “We come back at least every couple of days to play some more. We're looking forward to see who the best team players are, who will outperform us and prove just how great people can be when they work together.”

Share your thoughts about the game on this reddit thread.