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Open Data + Video Games = Win

Open data is cool, especially when it comes from government. What’s even cooler than open data? Games. Games are cool. So why not combine them? This talk explores the potential for spreading the word about open data, as well as providing for deeper engagement with data, through game development.

Open data, such as that provided by many governments around the world[1] is cool. It’s fantastic to see countries around the world opening as much as they can, allowing citizens and interested parties to build upon and enhance the myriad of interesting information collected by countries. There’s a lot of people doing great work with this sort of data, but have to be pretty passionate, engaged, and motivated in order to get involved.

We found another way. For the last three years we’ve been participating in hackathons and jams, and taking open (government) data and turning it into games.

This session explores why this is a good idea, and how you might want to do it to. We cover:

conceiving of game ideas based on – otherwise dry – open data sets (we once made a Pokemon-style battle game based on the energy efficiency data provided by the government energy regulator, it helped you figure out if your fridge was efficient by letting you battle it against other people’s fridges);
preserving the spirit and meaning of the data in games you make with it;
tools for parsing and interpreting the data, and making it usable for your games (we’re very good at Perl, Awk, Sed, and R now);
getting out and engaging people with your data-based games, and making sure people don’t draw the wrong conclusions from what your game shows them (while still having fun – it is a game after all!)

We’ve built games –– often at GovHack[2] in Australia that do everything from turn your local politician’s parliamentary voting history into a party game, to parsing and interpreting a giant database incorporating all the functional roles in a government, and turning it into a SpaceTeam style party game. We’ll tell you how you can do the same thing in your community, how to make it engaging and meaningful, why you might want to do this, and how to get started.

[1] e.g.,,, and so many more!


Paris Buttfield-Addison

Dr Paris Buttfield-Addison is a producer and co-founder at Secret Lab, a mobile development studio based in beautiful Hobart, Australia. Secret Lab builds games for mobile devices, and primarily for children, such as the AIMIA winning (2014) ABC Play School apps for iPad.

Paris formerly worked with Meebo (which was acquired by Google in 2012) as mobile product manager. He has a BA in History, and a PhD in Computing/HCI, and has written nearly a dozen technical, game design, and mobile software development books, for O’Reilly Media and Wiley. He is currently working on a Swift 2 book, and a book about Kerbal Space Program.

Paris can be found on Twitter @parisba. He still thinks digital watches are a pretty neat idea. His website is

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