Some random thoughts on my dissertation topic

The first, and hopefully not last, blog post is already just some rambling mess. I wrote it very, very spontaneously and basically just let out what I had on my mind. I make unfounded claims, sure, but the whole thing is just an idea. Jan was so kind to provide me with some feedback already (I marked it in red).

Some parts might be a little weird (some might even say embarrassing, but I usually am not embarrassed when giving away details of my geeky childhood. 🙂 ), so be prepared for a laugh or two.

I’d appreciate feedback, just leave it in a comment.

Gero’s ideas for the Aixplorer-Game

(proposal draft?)

The way I see it, a game always pulls the player into some sort of virtual world, be it something actually imagined as a world (a fantasy world, or a science fiction world) or something like the abstract “zone” of chess moves, where only those weird figures matter.
There is, however, something that, to me, seems to differ between the way I played games as a child and now, even though I like playing a lot (in fact a lot more than most other things to do):
For children, the real world and the virtual one actually merge. If you play catch or hide & go seek outside with friends, even if you imagine being a police officer and your buddies are bad guys, you’re “there”. In some sort that even worked for concrete settings (I, for example, pretended to be in “Star Wars” a lot…): The see-saw was the Millennium Falcon etc. Of course adults, at first, are often chuckling at those notations. As a grown-up you surely would not make those make-believe kind of plays, would you? My first claim is that this is not true, because whether you map it onto a real physical place or not, immersing yourself into a board game is, objectively seen, the same process.
In fact, many of today’s computer games seem to build on this human desire. They present you a virtual world, often times a direct copy of some known media franchise (KOTOR = “Knights of the old Republic”, a Star Wars RPG…), using the technical possibilities of computers to create it, in some way next to, the real world. The fact that those games have become popular even among adults over the recent years indicate that even as grown ups we still have the desire to “flee” from reality into these artificial worlds. {Jan: like in Movies!}
But why do we need worlds next to instead of right within the real world?
Well, there might be several reasons for this. Social awkwardness put aside (seeing kids running after each other shouting “pew! pew!” is acceptable, but if those were adults?) I assume that time and organizational effort are the biggest issues here. As an adult you have less spare time, obviously. More-so, it is less likely that your friends have time on their hands at the exact time you desire to play a game, so you need to put additional effort into planning the thing. Formal organization, however, might simply demolish the desire to play; at least it makes ad-hoc games impossible.
There are notable exceptions to this: Live-action role players, for example, put an enormous amount of preparation into their hobby, which is basically nothing more complex of pretending to be a fictional character (something every child has probably done). Judging from the number of people who played these games as children and not as adults anymore, it seems that’s not the standard, however.
Using a computer to jump into a well prepared virtual world can be a lot easier, so perhaps this is why people prefer that to playing more traditional games. Even the usually collaborative or competitive nature (which requires other players) of many games is addressed now that every computer is typically interconnected via the internet. It has become easy to find other players.
So everything is well then, right? (Putting concerns about deteriorating imagination caused by the consumption of pre-fabricated fantasy worlds instead of using your own mind aside)
I think not, because there are still many people who play traditional games. When interviewed for the why, they usually respond that meeting their friends in real life is superior to meeting only online. Social issues meeting strangers online to play with also play a role. It appears that there is something within playing with your peers that can’t be entirely replaced by these days’ computer games. {Jan: bandwidth: real vs virtual; check the paper: “Beyond being there”}
The traditional games they do play then, however, very often again produce a world next to the real one. It either manifests on the board or it is even the whole purpose of the game (pen & paper roleplaying). Only in the rarest cases (LARP, see above) is it mapped directly on the real world.

My claim is that now that we have location aware mobile and small scale computers, it will be possible to “bring back the playing to the street”. {Jan: check book: “Burning Man”} The virtual worlds in which we like so much to divulge ourselves can now be made accessible from literally everywhere. Don’t use the computer to create a virtual world for which you have to blend out the existing one, but have it help you enhance your imagination back to the degree you possessed as a child. {Jan: “AR argument”}
Make it support you in finding the time to play using the same ways non-location aware games these days do: Buddy lists, finding ad-hoc players, and inviting your friends. Save time to explicitly meet somewhere to then virtually leave again into another world, but bring that other world to where you are. {Jan: see also Facebook, Farmville, foursquare}

There have been projects creating games like this. The idea of a location aware game is not new at all. Geocaching, for example, tackles the issue, but it actually comes from the other direction. It’s more like a hiking experience turned into a location-aware game (a treasure hunt) than a traditional game turned location-aware. So far, I am unaware of any projects that have explicitly pondered the question of how to have computers enhance playing games “right on top of reality” the way kids do.

Of course that is an open question. The way I imagine these enhancements brought by computers might not do the trick. It is not guaranteed that help with organizing and improving imagination result in the same degree of immersion that a kid on the playground has, but I believe it’s worth trying out.

{Jan, general comments, bullet points: Flashmobs, Occupy WS, “The Game” movie, “24”, homo ludens}

3 thoughts on “Some random thoughts on my dissertation topic

  1. Since first comments are ususally not that good and appreciated I volunteer to take all the negatives for writing something. All in all the topic is really great and is something of big interest for me. However what I beleieve is the hardest thing is to find the sweet spot so that you immerse the user in the game but not too much. Thus he is in the game but also realizes what happens around him.

    I see a few ways to do this
    1. Employing sensors available in a device that require a more natural interaction – GPS for movement, gyro for gestures and use as little touch or rendered virtual joystic or any other “standard” solutions
    2. Immerse the user with other people – when we were kids the most fun was when we actually played with the other kids in the hood. I even guess that one can go a step further. Instead of employing in-game voice or other new technologies why not requiring the players to play as a group and stick together, thus speaking directly with each other (many people prefer that kind of interaction, or at least I do)
    3. Maybe a good idea will be to use the camera as a special set of glases that allow you to see the environment at a different angle. (or maybe multiple environments akin to the movie “Inception”) There are already some projects out there that render a 3D shape at some location and allow the player to walk there and explore the shape “looking” at the environment through his phone
    4. An interesting idea would be to the comic/cartoon kind of a game even though I am not sure how well it will fit the whole context

    Overall I believe that the interface should be such that it sticks to what I’d call an “enhanced reality game”. Thus no buttons or joysticks or even direct manipulation as we know it from the desktop. But rather the direct manipulation we know from real life experiences.

    I hope this helps a bit and wish you all the best of luck for the topic

  2. Two more things come to my mind after thinking a bit more on the topic:

    1. When I was a kid there were these so called “game books”. I translate it literally but believe that their equivalent in other countries matches. Those were books with a fictional narration, where at certain points you had to make a choice. Depending on your choice you were directed to different place to further continue the story. Thus your choices determined the narration and 5 people could read 5 different stories in the very same book.

    2. For me the primary aspect to address is the social one since we discuss a location based game, possibly pbeing played in groups. Therefore I find solving tasks or puzzles together as an interesting approach. Imagine that a team of four people needs to solve a riddle to get a hint for progressing into the game. The team might be required to meet at the same place and collaborate to solve it. Each device might add one piece to the puzzle so only when all 4 players are together with their devices they can get the full picture.

    Hope this helps as well.

  3. Pingback: Game Immersion in the Real World | A Kraftwerk Orange

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