2020 Redux

2020 Redux
Lifegame 2.0

Allen Varney | 11 Jul 2006 12:03
2020 Redux - RSS 2.0

The tools and infrastructure coming into place soon will bring a new era of ubiquitous online gaming - games accessible any time, any place. You'll play these games through your cell phone or PDA, the ever-present online connections where no laptop can reach. Your next-gen cell phone will have GPS, so the game will always know where you are. (Corporations can't wait for this locational awareness. As you pass their storefronts, they'll spam you with coupons.)

Many designers, from sociologists to web entrepreneurs to performance artists, have used precursors of locational awareness in cell phone games that network whole populations of players:

  • "Big Urban Games," such as ConQwest, which ran in five American cities in 2004. Sponsored by the telco Qwest, ConQwest was a territory-based treasure hunt in which contestants snapped phone cam photos of special semacodes to collect clues.
  • Superstar Tokyo sent Ubicomp 2005 conference attendees around Tokyo to place photo stickers and snap photos of others' stickers. They scored points for forming links in a spontaneous social network.
  • Blast Theory's Uncle Roy All Around You: "Online players and street players collaborate to find Uncle Roy's office before being invited to make a year-long commitment to a total stranger."
  • Pooptopia (mentioned in The Escapist Lounge) is an urban location-based game of pet waste removal. Designer Aram Saroyan Armstrong, who created the game as part of his thesis project: "Pooptopia LBS is much more than a super smart, fun and high-tech poop scooping service. It's a lifestyle. ... We encourage good citizenship and are helping people to reclaim their streets in a playful and positive way." Among other projects, Armstrong has also envisioned a pedometer-based game, Piedimonsters, which would encourage obese children to exercise.

However likely (inevitable?) the "Lifegame 2020" article's consumerist vision of Wal-Mart World and DisneyLife, art projects like the ones above inspire an alternative vision of networked social games: not shopgames, but lifegames - vehicles not for hype and coupons, but for flash-mob activism.

The third annual Game Design Challenge, held at the 2006 Computer Game Developers conference in San Jose, asked contestants to describe a game that could win the Nobel Peace Prize. Designer Harvey Smith won with "Peace Bomb," a networked game that would spontaneously draw people together for various constructive projects, like tree planting, cleaning up, building homes or donating money. Smith speculated, "After pooling together and trading resources, players can win on a quarterly basis, or every six months or whatever and [the] flash mob erupts around a socially constructive movement."

Why not a lifegame based on the Peace Bomb? It wouldn't require deep corporate pockets. You could fund it with pledges collected through fundraising sites like Fundable.org or even Second Life. This activist design might take inspiration from "distributed labor" projects like the ESP Game, Mycroft, and Amazon's Mechanical Turk, or from the cancelled Game Neverending that spawned photo-sharing site Flickr.

The inspirations are many. The goal is worthy. The motivation, at least for those who didn't like hearing about Wal-Mart World, is clear.

It's worth a try. Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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