The idea for a disaster-themed educational game grew out of a lengthy conversation about Jane McGonical, world-renowned game designed and New York Times bestselling author, between two women: Annie Dennisdóttir Wright, a lead editor at Gameranx, and Willow Brugh, who works at Geeks Without Bounds. "We were intrigued by the idea of games being used for good, and practical, sustainable applications," Wright says. "Most recently, [McGonical] has talked quite extensively about the research that's being done with games as potential means of therapy or education or, basically, just the idea that they're not all mindless entertainment. Not that there's anything wrong with mindless entertainment, of course -- sometimes we need to just blow up a zombie -- but specifically that there's an untapped potential there, a learning mechanism that is more effective than a traditional classroom setting."
The earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan were a substantive starting point for Wright and Brugh. "After learning a bit more about the Pacific Ring of Fire, we started to hear things on our local news here in Seattle that our region ... [could] be next.... Apparently, our region can potentially suffer up to a 9.2 quake, so, you know, that's comforting."
Initially, Wright and Brugh conceived of a single development team building a user-friendly disaster preparedness program. GameSave evolved out of a fairly simple and recognizable concept: competition is good. A competitive environment for programmers "will make the entire thing a much more robust pool of gray matter from which to find a solution," Wright says. "And it's also a better application of the underlying principle -- the event itself is a game me: instead of getting a single team you pit other teams against each other to see who can come up with the best program."
Participating in GameSave is easy. A team can be composed of individuals who organize themselves through a registration site if they don't come as an organized unit. Teams can also be sponsored by their respective employers. Ideally, Wright and Brugh plan on bringing every team to Seattle for an intensive session with emergency management personnel prior to the official launch on June 10th. But participants don't even have to be present to compete: GameSave will stream the event, and if the sponsorship is there, Wright and Brugh plan on flying developers in to Seattle for a several weeks of building. GameSave currently has two full teams of developers ready to compete with several more in the wings.
Since its conception -- the result of "eight solid hours of butt-numbing brainstorming at our local Hackerspace, Jigsaw Renaissance with the whiteboard and a lot of coffee," says Wright -- GameSave has remained something of a small-scale operation. "We started thinking about what kind of resources we already had -- who we knew, which developer friends of ours might not be horrifically busy this summer, etc.," says Brugh. "But so far, we've got a lot of folks who seem to be willing to put in the overtime for it, and we're really grateful for that."