Posted: 10/9/2015 | Print Friendly Version


Missouri Botanical Garden Project Named “Best Learning Game” at Boston Festival of Indie Games

Game Allow Users to Transcribe Texts through Play

(ST. LOUIS):  In June, the Missouri Botanical Garden and its partner organizations released two crowdsourcing games in an effort to improve access to books and journals in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).  One of those games, Smorball, was recently named Best Learning Game at the Boston Festival of Indie Games. The award recognizes games that promote civic engagement and have an impact on culture at large.

Smorball was created by Tiltfactor, an interdisciplinary research studio at Dartmouth College that designs and studies games for social impact, and is part of the “Purposeful Gaming and BHL Project,” which is based at the Garden. The project was established in 2013 through an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant and includes partners from Harvard University, Cornell University and the New York Botanical Garden.

Cambridge, Mass. City Councilor Leland Cheung presented the “Figgie” award to Tiltfactor.

“(Smorball) is a testament to how games can redefine the structure and modalities of learning inside and outside the traditional classroom,” said Cheung. “This year’s award winner combines the fast paced frenzy of fictional sports with literacy and typing skills, all the while contributing to a larger purpose.”

Smorball tackles a major challenge for digital libraries: full-text searching of digitized material is significantly hampered by poor output from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. When first scanned, the pages of digitized books, journals, and manuscripts are image files, making the pages virtually unusable. While OCR converts page images to searchable text, historic literature is difficult for OCR to accurately render, resulting in errors and unsearchable materials. Making such material searchable and findable is essential in the age of digital research.

Smorball players are asked to type the words they see as quickly and accurately as possible to help coach their team, the Eugene Melonballers, to victory in the fictional sport of Smorball.  Each correctly typed word defeats an opposing player and brings the team closer to the championships.

Mary Flanagan serves as founding director of Tiltfactor.

“I’m delighted by the game’s success and especially that the award serves as evidence that our team successfully met a challenging design goal – to create a crowdsourcing game to both improve transcriptions and appeal to game players everywhere," said Flanagan.

The BHL is an international consortium of the leading natural history libraries and contains books and journals dating back to the 1400s. It is the single largest open-licensed source of biodiversity in the world, but like other digital libraries is hampered by poor output from OCR software. “Purposeful Gaming” was developed to test whether online games were a successful tool for improving digital outputs by presenting users with words and phrases that are difficult for OCR software to recognize.


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The Missouri Botanical Garden’s mission is “to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.” Today, 156 years after opening, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display. For general information, visit or call (314) 577‑5100 (toll-free, 1‑800‑642‑8842). Follow the Garden on Facebook and Twitter at and

The Missouri Botanical Garden is located at 4344 Shaw Blvd. in St. Louis, just south of I-44 at Vandeventer-Kingshighway (exit #287B). Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Christmas Day. Grounds open at 7 a.m. most Wednesdays and Saturdays (exception: special admission rate events). Admission is $8; free children ages 12 and under and Garden members. St. Louis City and County residents are $4 and free most Wednesdays and Saturdays until noon. Park for free on site and two blocks west at the Shaw-Vandeventer intersection. The Garden is accessible via public transportation by taking the MetroLink commuter rail line and picking up a Metro bus ( For general information, log on to or call the 24-hour recording at (314) 577-5100 or 1-800-642-8842. For membership information, visit call (314) 577-5118 during weekday business hours. For volunteer opportunities, visit or call (314) 577-5187. The Missouri Botanical Garden is a tobacco-free environment.


About Tiltfactor

Tiltfactor Laboratory, a research and design studio based at Dartmouth College, is dedicated to understanding how games can be used to generate new knowledge. Tiltfactor designs, studies, and launches games, across a variety of platforms, that use core psychological principles and strategies to promote learning and impact players’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Founded and led by Dr. Mary Flanagan, Tiltfactor uses its unique design methodology, Critical Play, to incorporate fundamental human values and psychological principles to promote pro-social values such as cooperation, perspective taking, empathy, and civic engagement. Follow the lab @tiltfactor on Twitter.

About the Biodiversity Heritage Library

BHL is a consortium of major natural history, botanical and research libraries that seek to contribute to the global “biodiversity commons” by digitizing and aggregating the resources housed within each of the participating institutions, providing free and open access to the legacy literature that underpins the work of the natural science community. For more information, visit the Biodiversity Heritage Library website. Other games made with the BHL include Beanstalk ( @BioDivLibrary on Twitter.