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 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.Â 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.