Making ARGs local and social

Thinking about games the other night, I was frustrated at how difficult it is to find time to play games with friends; I’ve never had a proper console, but even so, online gaming needs coordination. And, well, it’s too immersive sometimes. This is why I enjoy Words With Friends so much; it’s a bit time loose; with a few games, it’s almost always your turn, but never overwhelmingly so. But ARGs seem to have either the coordination or immersion problem; it’s hard to make them casual. I want an ARG that can be asynchronous in the same way the social tools I use are, most especially twitter.

Now, I suspect that the various API’s I’m going to mention don’t support some of the methods I’m going to be bandying around, so lets call this slightly speculative, though if you can suggest anything to fill the gaps I’d be interested.

Tom Taylor and I were playing with the ideas of text based adventure games earlier this week, and this got me thinking; Twitter is a great platform for a ‘MUD based on this idea; as you tweet/DM new instructions and move around a map, you would find yourself in the same spaces as other players and could talk/trade/fight, which is nice, but not really alternate reality in any way.

I wanted to map this onto the real world in some way; social software is, for me, mainly about people I’ve met, so if I were to play this game, it would have to be played in my milieu; socially and geographically. So lets say the game looks at my my last few flickr tagged photos, and associates me with a ‘place’. Extend this a bit with the landmarks information you can extract from Wikipedia, or perhaps nearest road information from Open Street Map, and you could start to create ‘dungeons’ that are, in fact, based on the geography you already know, and could be populated by people who you could meet, or already know. And aren’t dungeons at all anymore.

We add some hysteresis to the geographical data, so even if you are taking a few pictures somewhere new, the game doesn’t drop you into a new area, and add some options to just play with your contacts on twitter, or everyone in the area, and perhaps take some of foursquare game mechanics; getting/receiving ‘things’ or badges for being somewhere. Of course, objects should be associated with missions in this context, really, otherwise it’s just a gimmick.

But the mission concept is where I’m stumbling; the time aspect of this is troublesome; players won’t move at the same rates, and won’t necessarily be visible to each other. That doesn’t really matter, characters needn’t be integral to the game. Maybe narrative doesn’t matter here; perhaps if it were team based, or around ideas of capture-the-flag it could work.

I should probably re-read Neverwhere, but it could be a bit D&D. I really like Russell Davies’ ideas thoughts on playfulness; here, why we buy fancy watches:

Indeed, we all want to be spies and pilots. But I know my Zimbardo, and that’s not a good idea. But that kind of complex play where you can be as involved as you choose would be perfect. A friend talked about couriering after reading a draft of this piece, and that feels kind of right, in a bit of a Halting State fashion; there’s a potential game where real objects and virtual characters have a bit of a shady co-existence.

Here’s a thought, inspired by this ‘disloyalty card’ for marketing coffee shops around east London. Places where, if you lived there, you might be expected to frequent 2 or 3 times a week (you, being the notional iphone-toting urban warrior the term ARG conjures up); coffee shops have some small RFID readers, maybe just tied to your Oyster ID, and you can store stuff at the coffee shops; it’s the real world equivalent of the RPG shop; you take a step out of gameplay and restock your game character as you drink your macchiato. Perhaps you could also leave items to sell in the coffee shops, or exchange items with others in that shop (this seems a bit too much). And then, between coffee shop visits,  your twitter adventurer is off doing missions and levelling up in the same geography; maybe even interacting in another way with the coffee shops, and levelling up for the next time you have a chance to trade at the coffee shop.

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