Gaming Finds a Home in GIS, or Vice Versa

Gaming Finds a Home in GIS, or Vice Versa

A GIS degree is not usually associated with fun and games. Someone with training in geographic and geospatial information systems might help a retail company analyze possible store locations, track power usage and demographics in a rapidly expanding metropolitan area for an electric utility, or even improve health care planning and delivery for a hospital network.

To look at where gaming and GIS could continue to intersect only takes a glance at social gaming.

But GIS has been used in forms of gaming for years — at least since 2001, when Microsoft purchased geographic imaging software to process aerial and satellite photography for a better experience for Flight Simulator customers. And one of the first documented uses of unrestricted GPS technology for civilians was in a hide-and-seek game that would develop into what is now called geocaching.


GameSim, a company in the video gaming, GIS, and modeling and simulation industries, has developed applications for game publisher Electronic Arts, as well as transportation giant CSX and government agencies including the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and NASA, according to Directions Magazine. The company has a product to view, edit, and analyze GIS information. One of the target industries is gaming.

That may sound like a niche, but gaming is far broader than most people realize. For example, GameSim internally used its recently-released software to help build an educational game for CSX. The specifications required “real-world environments,” so developers needed feature and elevation data, among other types, to create recognizable areas. Still, the need and process would be similar for many other games that try to incorporate a recognizable area, like racing games set within a specific city.

Military simulations, in which soldiers could navigate an electronic terrain before physically setting boots on the grounds, are another example. More broadly, such applications are examples of the trend called gamification, or the use of techniques from gaming to enhance learning of all sorts, whether private or public. [incl-event tag=”open”]

To look at where gaming and GIS could continue to intersect only takes a glance at social gaming. People play casual games with people they are connected to on social networks. Combine this concept with location swapping, like the Foursquare app in which people check in from locations. You now have the potential for people go get together physically as well as virtually for some fun with GIS enabling such analyses as whether anyone who’s open for a game is in your location and how long it would take to meet them at some public spot.

With Facebook having bought a virtual reality company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg talking about some of the simulation services he envisions, the chance of gaming, social, and GIS meeting becomes even stronger. Think of it as another GIS career boost.