Tag Archives: pmog

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.

Games that use the Internet as a Board

As a kid, I used to draw board games on the sidewalk. I’d write “go back two spaces”, “lose a turn” and the like on the sidewalk squares in chalk. The neighborhood kids would grab dice and race each other around the block.I had psychedelically transformed my neighborhood into a board, and people into pieces on it.

Years later, in college, I created a campuswide 24/7 game, called “Tales of the Dreaming”, where the players played the roles of creatures living in a dream world. The people on campus who weren’t playing — or rather, people who didn’t think they were playing — were figured to be people just going about their dreams, oblivious to the battles and stories and scavenger hunts going on right below their noses. At any time you wanted to go to the Dreaming, you could slip on an arm band and be your character in this parallel community.

I’m intrigued by blurring this boundary between games and reality. That’s why I was delighted to discover two games which use the internet as their “board”. Both are firefox plugins, and very easy to learn.

The Great Link Race
The Great Link Race

The first is WikiPaths, a “Wikipedia-based scavenger hunt game“. After you install the plugin, when you go to the wikipedia entry for Path, you’ll see a start button. Click it, and you’ll be taken to a random page. Another random page will be displayed in the bottom right corner of your screen. Your goal is to navigate from one page to the other in the shortest number of clicks possible.

Since the pages are random, there’s no way to really know if you did “well”. It takes a bit of strategy to figure out how you’ll navigate from, say, an obscure hair metal band, to a public school in india. The name is a bit misleading though because it’s not really a “race” – there’s no way to record your score or compete with other racers. Regardless, Wiki Paths’ reappropriates wikipedia as a game board.


The second game is called PMOG, the Passively Multiplayer Online Game.  This game takes your normal web browsing behavior and plugs it into a few game feedback loops. Every time you view a unique URL, you get a few points. You can then spend those points on tools, which allow you to interact with other players. You can set a mine on a page, and the next player to view it will trip it, causing their browser to shake and a few points to be lost. You can also leave crates, which give players goodies for finding them. As you go through the web, messages will pop up when you encounter something that another player has left. It’ll also notify you when another player trips your mine, and give you the opportunity to taunt them.

Since you accumulate points just for using forums, social networking sites, reading blogs, porning around, whatever, you’ll be racking up points all the time. It feels a bit like Progress Quest in that you’re effortlessly and passively accumulating resources all the time. This raises a few privacy issues of course, namely that when the plugin is turned on, pmog.com is recording what sites you view. But they swear on a stack of bibles they won’t hose you (intentionally) for participating.

There’s also missions, guided tours of a section of the internet. The mission creator will string together 4 or more websites around a theme, and write about a paragraph about each site. If you’re not interested, you can just click through to the end of the mission, but if something along the track piques your interest, you can jump off and explore to your heart’s content before you continue. Missions often take you to some pretty interesting places which you may not have encountered in your regular web travels. It’s in this way that PMOG rewards you for exploring the web, and checking out stuff outside your normal circles.

Creative gamers are reappropriating the web, transforming it into a playground. New behaviors are emerging out of this digital morass. Wikipaths has forged a new usage for wikipedia, while PMOG blurs the line between game play and non play. That’s the Golden Secret, some say, transforming Life into the Art of Playing Games.