Mary Flanagan, Dartmouth College
Constance Rinaldo, Harvard University

Purposeful Gaming


The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is an international consortium of the world’s leading natural history libraries. The BHL digital library has the goal of improving research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community. The BHL also serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) also links to the literature in BHL. The Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is a founding member of the BHL and Connie Rinaldo, the Librarian of the MCZ, will describe the BHL, including unique features such as taxonomic intelligence, and the need for better optical character recognition which led to the purposeful gaming grant developed by partners Missouri Botanical Garden (lead institution), Cornell University and the New York Botanical Garden. To improve optical character recognition for content such as handwritten field notes and items with complex structure, the partners thought that combining the power of crowdsourcing with the fun of gaming might be a good incentive to become part of a crowd-sourcing transcription community. After a competitive biddingprocess, the partners determined that Tiltfactor was the best match for developing the game to improve transcription. Staff in the Ernst Mayr Library (primarily Joe deVeer and Patrick Randall) have led the review of transcription tools and outreach through social media.

Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College, is a leading innovator, artist, educator and designer, whose works have included everything from game-inspired art, to commercial games that shift people’s thinking about biases and stereotypes. Her interest in play and culture led to her acclaimed book, Critical Play, with MIT Press (2009). Her fifth academic book, Values at Play in Digital Games, with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, was released in 2014. Flanagan established the internationally recognized game research laboratory Tiltfactor ( in 2003 to invent "humanist" games and take on social through games. At Tiltfactor, designers create and research catchy games that teach or transform “under the radar” using psychological principles. Professor Flanagan will discuss gaming, the politically sensitive issues surrounding work and play without compensation, demo the games that were built for this project and touch on issues about what makes an ethical use of the play/volunteer approach—perhaps getting into the reinvention of the “commons" (common good).

For more information about the gaming project, see the BHL blog.