Web Games in Meatspace

In my last post, I talked about two games which use a very large, dynamic board: the internet. By using the internet as a gamespace, players invent new uses for websites. The playspace is dynamic, always changing. Adaptive, creative strategies win out. Participation leads to exploration.

I have to confess I’ve been pretty plugged into PMOG in the last few days. I’ve enjoyed seeing which websites have been trapped or treasure’d by other players. And I’ve gone on some missions which have taken me to some pretty interesting and unusual spots on the web. But something’s still missing. I’m still anchored here to my computer, wishing these adventures were a bit more tangible. Such is the plight of any gamer whose characters lead more exciting lives than their player. But that’s the clue – PMOG and Wiki Paths blur the lines between game activity and non-game activity by creating a game that overlaps traditional web usage. Why not explore this border in the real world? Let’s imagine some game events which could happen if these passively-multiplayer games took place in 3D.

Several technologies already exist which allow digital interactivity in meatspace. It’s just that nobody’s set up a game (that I ‘ve heard of) which brings all of these elements together. GPS, voice-over-ip, and digital cameras could easily be blended together to transform urban areas into playspaces.

Imagine a game that you play as you make your way through the real world. As you pass an intersection, you receive a text message that there is a chest nearby. You click the link for more info, and see a picture of a nearby mailbox. You walk over to the mailbox and press a button on your phone to collect the loot.

Or maybe I leave a mine along a  busy street. A few hours later, another player walking down the same street is informed that he’s triggered a mine and has lost 10 points. If I respond when it happens, I have the opportunity to send a 15-second taunt via voip.

Maybe I’m hanging out at the library, looking for a specific book whose cover has a scavenger-hunt sticker. If I snap a picture of the sticker, I get to hear the next clue. While I’m searching for the book, I bump into another player who is on the same scavenger hunt mission. We agree to cooperate to find the next clues, and spend the rest of the afternoon navigating the city together. Suddenly the game experience has created a real-world experience. Relationships form. Networks grow. The line between the digital and real worlds has been blurred.

Of course, this presents some new problems. There’s an alchemy involved in meeting strangers, and not all formulas work. I imagine the ten year old player who ends up in a party with drunken teenagers, or the sociopath who lures players into isolated situations to meet them. The stakes of befriending a dangerous person are much higher in the real world than they are on, say, facebook. Controls could be set up to filter out certain players – like maybe you only want to play with other 20 somethings, or only people who go to your college. Maybe there’d be a way to tag problem users so your friends can avoid them.

I imagine puzzles that can only be solved by getting together a party of people. Maybe there’s a spot on a college campus which has treasure buried under it. To find the spot, you’ll need to get together someone who specializes in geocaching (to find the spot), logic problems (to pick the lock on the chest). Maybe you need to bring together certain character classes, sort of like how in fantasy games, a well rounded party needs at least a healer and a tank. When the chest is finally dug up, you snap a pic of your group for a few bonus points and they split the treasure. The person who planted the chest is sent the picture of the groundbreaking discovery.

Faster paced games would be possible too. Maybe I could put treasure in one room on the top floor, and then put killer landmines all over the rest of the building. When you hit a landmine, you’d have to go back outside and push a button to be resurrected. You’d have to use trial and error, teamwork, or creative problem solving to bypass the mines and grab the chest. Teams of players could compete to race to the chest. Or maybe two teams would race each other to the chest, or fight each other in capture-the-flag style matches. Every building, every park, every urban center lends itself to different strategies and tactics. The game is wrapped around real-world geography and therefore real-world problem solving is needed to accomplish game tasks.

One day we’ll be able to play this exciting game, or maybe one like it. The technology already exists and it’s just a matter of time before someone develops the game. And then we’ll be on our way to really having the fabulous, action packed adventures our characters so frequently do.

4 thoughts on “Web Games in Meatspace

  1. Have you read ‘Halting State’, by Charlie Stross? Some similar ideas there, with a slightly sinister twist.

    I also think that it is, indeed, merely a matter of time until such games exist.

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