UCSC students create new tools to archive and explore computer game culture

UCSC computer science grad student Eric Kaltman and  James Ryan have devised a new way to search and archive 12,000 video games.
UCSC computer science grad student Eric Kaltman and James Ryan have devised a new way to search and archive 12,000 video games.

SANTA CRUZ—In a UC-Santa Cruz research lab dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of computer games, two graduate students have combined linguistics and computational theory to create a new multidimensional library of 12,000 computer games.

The web-based tools, GameNet and GameSage, offer novel ways to discover similar types of games.

It is a step toward sorting decades of game culture that has yet to be successfully categorized and archived.

Computer games involve more than a storyline. They have different platforms and modes of play as well making them difficult to compare based on genre alone.

“People have been used to dealing with books and film and the software has been slower to catch up,” said Eric Kaltman who has been working on the project with fellow computer science doctoral student James Ryan.

The pair used natural language processing, the intersection between computer science and linguistics, to sort through 12,000 Wikipedia game entries.

The result is GameNet, which allows users to type in the name of a game dating back to 1962 to find games that are similar and GameSage, which provides a visual display of the games as stars in a night sky. Some are in clusters, or lines; others are alone. Users can type in a game name, or a search for a type of game to find similar ones.

They can move around in space, visiting a nebula of sports games or make their way to a far away place in the sky and click on a dissimilar game such as Words With Friends.

Kaltman and Ryan say they’ve found niches that they didn’t know existed and discovered similarities that they wouldn’t have imagined. Unfortunately, the tools will say two games are related, but not why.

The database is relatively small compared to the entire number of games in the world. It is also skewed by the kind of games that are included in Wikipedia.

The students hope to both broaden the database as well as help libraries tailor it to individual library collections.

The effort is part of a greater Game Metadata and Citation Project (GAMECIP), a collaboration between UCSC and Stanford University that is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

While this project is aimed at helping gamers navigate 53 years of gaming, the greater goal of the grant is to provide libraries and other institutions with a practical methodology to better catalog, organize and describe games.


This article was first published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.


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