27 September 2013

Zombie Crowdsourcing

You’re in a room; zombies all around. Get out quickly! But which exit?

Welcome back. Were you aware that last winter, while I was still settling into our new apartment in Wisconsin, the Science Museum in London (the one across the pond) was holding a 3-day event to explore the science of consciousness?

Had I been over there, I doubt that subject would have gotten me out of my door. But then I read that the event was designed to surprise and fascinate while exploring consciousness and the scientific and social implications of a zombie attack! And that the event, ZombieLab, featured over 15 interactive experiences, demonstrations, experiments and a live criminal trial--of a zombie.
Preparedness poster from Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention

Is that a way to communicate science or what? 

Video Game Research

This all came to my attention because one of the interactive experiences, a video game to outrace a horde of zombies, was actually a recently published crowdsourcing study of building evacuation behavior designed by researchers from the University of Essex. (For a review of crowdsourcing, check my blog post, Crowdsourcing for Science.)

ZombieLab attendees who played the game saw an overhead view of simple outlines of part of a building layout--one room within a larger room. The inner room had lots of little open circles, each representing a zombie, and two doorways, one on each side.

The player’s avatar was a filled-in dark circle that could be maneuvered with a mouse through the building. By “outrace a horde of zombies,” I didn’t mean escape. Sadly, it was too late. The player’s avatar was already a zombie.

Playing the Game

For the initial step, players moved their avatars from the outer corridor into the inner room, choosing the route and doorway. Once the avatar was comfortably inside amongst its fellow zombies, the action began.

The players had to get their avatars out of the room, back to the starting point, where a target (undefined) was waiting, and to get there as quickly as possible. To make it interesting, the other zombies were milling about as zombies do or trying to get out of the room, sometimes bunching up at one or the other doorway.

Building Evacuation Behavior

Player tallies over the three days showed no doorway preference for getting their avatars out of the room until the players were challenged to beat the fastest time. When stress levels increased, players were more likely to exit via the same doorway they used to enter the room, even if that doorway was more crowded with zombies. The study found no herd behavior; players did not tend to follow other members of the crowd.

Although they recognized the limitations of extrapolating from a video game simulation, the investigators judged that, under higher stress levels, evacuees from a building will be more likely to use known exit routes and less willing to adapt their choice of route.

Wrap Up

The study also found that female and older players seemed to have longer reaction times. The age effect makes sense, but I wouldn’t go very far with the female thing. Those females who stepped forward to play the game may not have devoted as much of their lives to playing video games as their male counterparts (I can only hope), yet most probably know more about getting in and out of shopping malls and the like.

Thanks for stopping by.


-Science Museum press release on ZombieLab event:
-Crowdsourcing research report in Animal Behaviour:
-Examples of write-ups on the research report:

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