Of all the grand game worlds constructed by an army of artificial architects, there's one virtual environment that game companies have only just begun to chart. The strange thing about this undiscovered realm is that it's right under our feet, and is one of the largest digital environments ever created: Planet Google.
The Grand Overlord of the Internet has gone to extreme lengths to map, in obsessive detail, our corner of the solar system, including every street corner, the moon, the sea bed, night sky, Mars, and even Chipping Sodbury just off the M4, rebuilding reality as a high resolution online entity. Yet this persistent world is going to waste on trivial matters like route planning and scientific research.
Game companies are missing a trick by not turning this digitization of the real world into a game world where we can live out pretend lives in a pseudo-reality based on our actual physical location.
Between Google Earth and Google Maps there are very few secret corners of the world left to uncover, offering the potential for the most massive of massively online multiplayers. Playing C&C in our own backyards, croquet on the White House lawn, or Super Bass Fishing Extreme in the river Nile has the promise of bringing the planet together in gaming harmony; and then having us fight, compete, conquer and destroy digitally, rather than bombing each other in real life (virtual oil is much harder to start wars over).
Some headway has been made into employing this gigantic digi-sphere in frivolous exploit. The Big G itself built a flight simulator into Google Earth, and hid it away as an Easter egg for digital cartographers and orbital voyeurs to excitedly uncover. Users could unlock the choice between an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter and an easier-to-handle Cirrus SR-22 propeller plane, along with a collection of global airports to take off from.
Somewhere between an impossible, fun-less flight sim and an online gimmick, Google Earth's hidden Top Gun tribute was still quite well received, though it lacked anything in the way of gaming objectives other than giving your neighbors a supersonic fly-by (assuming you could find them). With much of the satellite imagery still flat and uninteresting, one of the few quirks was being able to fly underwater (if that makes any sense) and explore the sea bed as a modern-day Amelia Earhart.
A lot of people have dedicated long hours to the tricksy controls of Google Earth's aircraft, but others have found alternative ways to have fun with planes on the virtual planet. Still not exactly a game beyond the perpetual race for internet esteem (a worthy chase for one and all), the hunt for ghost aircraft photographed within Google's satellite imagery has become an entertaining pastime for many.