17–19 October 2016: Conference & Tutorials
19–20 October 2016: Training
London, UK

Engaging with open data through video games

Tim Nugent (lonely.coffee), Paris Buttfield-Addison (Secret Lab Pty. Ltd.), Jonathon Manning (Secret Lab Pty. Ltd.)
11:40–12:20 Monday, 17/10/2016
Open data & data science
Location: Windsor Suite Level: Non-technical

Prerequisite knowledge

  • A basic understanding of open data and games

What you'll learn

  • Explore why open data has a lot more potential than just mapping data or specific solutions to problems


Open data, such as that provided by many governments around the world, 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 interesting information collected by countries. Many people are doing great work with this sort of data, but you have to be extremely passionate, engaged, and motivated in order to get involved.

Tim Nugent, Paris Buttfield-Addison, and Jonathon Manning found another way. For the last three years, they’ve been participating in government-data-focused hackathons and turning them into game jams. Tim, Paris, and Jonathon have built games—often at GovHack in Australia—that do everything from turning 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. They’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.

Topics include:

  • Conceiving of game ideas based on normally dry open datasets (They once made a Pokémon-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 (Tim, Paris, and Jonathon are now very good at Perl, Awk, Sed, and R.)
  • 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!)
Photo of Tim Nugent

Tim Nugent


Tim Nugent pretends to be a mobile app developer, game designer, and PhD student, and now he’s even pretending to be an author. (He cowrote the latest update to Learning Cocoa with Objective-C for O’Reilly.) When he isn’t busy avoiding being found out as a fraud, Tim spends most of his time designing and creating little apps and games he won’t let anyone see. He also spent a disproportionately long time writing this tiny little bio, most of which was taken up trying to stick a witty sci-fi reference in. . .before he simply gave up. Tim can be found as @The_McJones on Twitter.

Photo of Paris Buttfield-Addison

Paris Buttfield-Addison

Secret Lab Pty. Ltd.

Paris Buttfield-Addison is cofounder of Secret Lab, a mobile development studio based in beautiful Hobart, Australia. Secret Lab builds games and apps for mobile devices, including the award-winning ABC Play School iPad games, and the Qantas Joey Playbox. Paris formerly worked as mobile product manager for Meebo (acquired by Google) and writes technical books on mobile and game development for O’Reilly (most recently Learning Swift, 2nd edition, and The Kerbal Player’s Guide). He holds a degree in medieval history and a PhD in computing; he is currently studying law. Paris can be found on Twitter as @parisba online at Paris.id.au.

Photo of Jonathon Manning

Jonathon Manning

Secret Lab Pty. Ltd.

Jon Manning is the cofounder of Secret Lab and has worked on apps of all sorts, ranging from iPad games for children to instant messaging clients. He frequently finds himself gesticulating wildly in front of classes full of eager-to-learn developers. Jon has written a whole bunch of books for O’Reilly (and previously Wiley) about iOS development and game development. He recently completed his PhD, where his research studied how people manipulate the ranking systems of social media sites; this means that he literally has a doctorate about jerks on the internet. He wrote Yarn Spinner, an interactive dialogue system, which was used in the 2017 indie game Night in the Woods. Jon can be found as @desplesda on Twitter.