“Big games”: hybrids between the real world and video games, are popping up in urban areas:
- Somewhere out there on the streets of Greenwich Village, a fellow student was running around in a yellow Pac-Man suit. His four pursuers, code-named Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde, aimed to track him down and snuff him out — the sooner, the better.
“Our strategy is a dragnet to block all the roads Pac-Man might go down,” said Michael Olson, a k a Clyde the ghost. “You take that street,” he said to Pinky, as he pointed to a map of the Village. “And I’ll take this one.”
So began a test run for a game of Pac-Manhattan, a real-world version of the 1980’s video game played on the streets of New York and the latest example of a so-called “big game”: a contest that uses wireless devices like cellphones and global positioning beacons to track players as they move through the urban grid, turning cities into vast game boards. Big games, with some players online and others pounding the pavement, have been staged in the last year in Minneapolis, Las Vegas and London.
Frank Lantz, who teaches a class on the subject in N.Y.U.’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and whose students designed Pac-Manhattan, said the games are a somewhat whimsical response to the convergence of digital and physical space. Because millions of people conduct important aspects of their lives, including shopping, banking and communicating, online, Professor Lantz said, “online spaces are becoming a new form of public space.” At the same time, he said, wireless technologies like cellphones, global positioning systems and personal digital assistants have added a virtual component to the physical world. Big games, he said, take place in the overlap between the two. For players, the allure of big games is based on a less theoretical premise: bigger games equal more fun.
….In the last year, a London-based group called Blast Theory has run two big games — Can You See Me Now? and Uncle Roy All Around You — that allowed hundreds of online players to communicate with runners on the ground who were charged with making their way through the city in search of clues. The group plans to bring Uncle Roy to the United States later this year.
On grade-school campuses in England, a consortium of technologists has been running a game called Savannah, in which teams of students simulate the lives of lions – complete with virtual hunting, scouting for water and forming and dissolving prides – by communicating with one another over cellphones and computers, the way lions communicate by roaring.
And perhaps inevitably, corporations are getting in on the act. In two weeks, Intel, the computer-chip maker, plans to begin testing a competition tentatively called Digital Street Game in Manhattan, in which players claim parts of the city grid by performing outrageous stunts in those areas, then broadcasting them online to voters who rate them. The team that gets the most votes wins control of the segment of the city. Michele Chang, an Intel designer who created the game, said that she hoped it would eventually include hundreds of players, and that Intel wanted to use the game to better understand how city dwellers use its Wi-Fi networks, which give Internet access to users of laptops and hand-held computers.
….In Pac-Manhattan, players on the streets report their positions via cellphone to team leaders in the Kimmel student center. Those positions, which are constantly updated, are plotted on a computer screen like the Pac-Man screen of old, and the result is a sort of slow-motion version of the original. Teams in the student center direct the players outside, helping them navigate their way through the streets and avoid danger. The result is a wild, Keystone Kops-style scramble.
….Mr. Lantz, on the ghost team, was sitting across the table when the computer showed that Mr. Crowley had made it safely to the power pellet.
“Pac-Man is hot! Pac-Man is hot!” he screamed into his phone. “The ghosts should spread out. We have ghost clumping.”
….Mr. Lantz said he and his students were particularly interested in the way the game and the city interact. Pac-Man is free, for example, to try to shed ghosts by running through traffic. And there’s nothing to prevent the ghosts, say, from asking passers-by, “Excuse me, have you seen Pac-Man?” The result is a kind of tableau of digital convergence with the physical world, in which humans are game pieces that are monitored and guided over digital networks.
….The goal, Mr. Lantz said, was to give an edge to Pac-Man and to “pit the wily individual against the moronic masses,” which the class figures is an even match. The students had hoped to use global positioning systems to track players through the streets, but resorted to cellphones when they found that satellite signals necessary for the positioning systems were affected by tall buildings. [NY Times]
The real world/electronic game hybrid is interesting and does reflect what is happening to many of us psychologically, but I would think someone could come up with something a little more interesting than the games listed here.