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), Jon Manning (Secret Lab)
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

Lonely Coffee

Tim Nugent pretends to be a mobile app developer, game designer, tools builder, researcher, and tech author. 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 his tiny little bio, most of which was taken up trying to stick a witty sci-fi reference in…before he simply gave up. He’s writing Practical Artificial Intelligence with Swift for O’Reilly and building a game for a power transmission company about a naughty quoll. (A quoll is an Australian animal.)

Photo of Paris Buttfield-Addison

Paris Buttfield-Addison

Secret Lab

Paris Buttfield-Addison is a cofounder of Secret Lab, a game development studio based in beautiful Hobart, Australia. Secret Lab builds games and game development tools, including the multi-award-winning ABC Play School iPad games, the BAFTA- and IGF-winning Night in the Woods, the Qantas airlines Joey Playbox games, and the Yarn Spinner narrative game framework. Previously, Paris was a mobile product manager for Meebo (acquired by Google). Paris particularly enjoys game design, statistics, blockchain, machine learning, and human-centered technology. He researches and writes technical books on mobile and game development (more than 20 so far) for O’Reilly; he recently finished writing Practical AI with Swift and is currently working on Head First Swift. He holds a degree in medieval history and a PhD in computing. Paris loves to bring machine learning into the world of practical and useful. You can find him on Twitter as @parisba.

Photo of Jon Manning

Jon Manning

Secret Lab

Jon Manning is the cofounder of independent game development studio Secret Lab. He’s working on the critically acclaimed award-winning adventure game Night in the Woods, which includes his interactive dialogue system Yarn Spinner, and Button Squid, a top-down puzzler. He’s written a whole bunch of books for O’Reilly about iOS development and game development. Jon holds a PhD about jerks on the internet. He’s currently writing Practical AI with Swift for O’Reilly.