Games with a Purpose

I like games as much as the next person, however, I sometimes feel that pang of not accomplishing something productive that is benefiting society.

Well, now I can have my cake and eat it to, so to speak. A site called Games with a Purpose at allows users to play games while contributing something positive to the world. This site, sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, uses their games to collect data about music, words and pictures and how we associate with those things.

The site has five different games and each has different gameplay and different data that is being collected.

In the ESP Game, two users each see the same picture and try to use individual words to describe it, when both users have come up with the same word, you score points and move on to the next word. You do this for three minutes and compare scores with other users who are doing the same thing. These tags are then added to a search engine to improve future searches.

(What they don’t say is how that data is added and to which search engines. A Carnegie Mellon student originally created Lycos, so it would be interesting to find out if there is any connection there.)

If this sort of thing interests you, you’ll want to check out where I found out about this. They also talk about using Captchas (those weird images you have to decipher words out of to sign up for a new account) to teach software how to read faded letters from old newspapers.

I should also mention another game with a quite different purpose at This site lets you play a word game where you try to find the synonym for increasingly obscure words. Each correct answer you get means the UN World Food Program will distribute 20 grains of rice to places that need it.

So now you have my permission to go play some games.

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