Agent-based Land-Use Models and Farming Games on the Social Web—Fertile Ground for a Collaborative Future?
Each day, millions of people from all walks of life use agent-based simulation models of land use. Preparing land, finding seeds, tending crops, responding to the land's needs—across the planet, human players simulate many of the same choices faced by the world's real-life farmers. These millions, though using simulation models, do not pursue their agricultural goals for an academic purpose. Rather, driven by human curiosity and the desire to connect to others, they are playing computer games with names like "Farmville", "Happy Farm", and "Farm Town." Using the rapidly emerging social media framework, these are among the most popular games devised in all of human history. Meanwhile, academics labor to schedule playing sessions for their carefully crafted real-world land-use simulation models. What if these two worlds could be combined, with millions of people acting as agents in academically informative land-use models? This paper compares the characteristics of the world's most popular social media farming games to agent-based agricultural land use models produced in academia. We describe how the multiplayer aspect of social media games can inform and improve existing scientific models, and propose a framework for merging these technologies to create "massively multi-player land use models", or MMLUMs. Such models require no significant technical breakthroughs, but rather a reconception of the representation of space and of player management that already is present in academic models. Accessed by millions through social media, such hybrid academic/gaming models could quickly make significant contributions to scientific understanding of agricultural land use dynamics. More broadly, a functioning MMLUM game, even if only moderately successful by online gaming standards, could help researchers from many fields address a very wide host of vital questions about Earth's future. âº Millions of people regularly play agent-based farming games on social-media. âº We compare these games with scientific agent-based models of land-use change. âº Harnessing the multiplayer aspect of social games could improve scientific models. âº We propose merging these technologies to create engaging land-use models.