Facing the Nameless Review: Crowdsourcing the identification of John and Jane Doe


This isn’t so much a game as an experience – albeit an unsettling one.


Developer: The National Film Board of Canada / Specular Projects
Available for: Browser


Unidentified and unclaimed bodies are turned up by investigators daily. These people have no names, no identities. And one video game seeks to change that.

Facing the Nameless is not so much a video game as it is an experience, or better yet, an “interactive haiku,” as the website calls it. Created by Canada’s National Film Board, the game turns to crowdsourcing for help in identifying twelve nameless faces.

The game’s introduction states that “there are more than 11,000 open cases of un-named dead in the United States alone, even today, when technology makes it harder to remain anonymous. We chose 12 open cases from Namus.gov and tried to use internet resources to better understand them.”

Following the introduction, the game presents you with twelve 3D renderings of faces, no clothes, no hair, nothing else to distract from the facial features of the deceased. Hovering over the faces lets you rotates them from side to side so you can better examine them.

When you select a face, you’re taken to a Google map street view of where the decedent was found, and a short description of their death. From there you can scroll through the person’s file, arranged neatly to show known and potential information about the person.

The first slide shows photographs of the person’s actual face – not a 3D mockup – and the items and clothing found on the body at the time of their discovery. Next you are shown a grouping of various reverse Google image searches, of faces that are “visually similar.”

A beautiful eulogy follows, commissioned from anonymous authors who used what little information is known about the decedent to piece their life together into a short paragraph. On this same page is a big round button that says “I know who this person is.”

The 12 people chosen for this project vary in location, race, and gender, and chances are you won’t actually recognize them. You should also not expect too much “interaction” from the game – you click to scroll. But what the experience is asking us to do is stop and think – about the people whose lives were lost and had no one come forward to identify them, and about our own lives.
In an interview on the website’s blog, creator Ziv Schneider says “the experience of Facing the Nameless offers a pause to contemplate our day to day lives.”

The project has an even bigger call to action, according to Schneider: “This project explores the form of a short digital documentary and aims to increase awareness and trigger empathy and action beyond the screen.

The experience links to the original database that the cases are taken from and the users are encouraged to try and help solve these cases.

In fact, if a case is solved, Schneider says “it will be removed from the site.”

Even if you don’t know any of these faces, maybe you’ll know one of the thousands of other unidentified people found every year.

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