At GDC I noticed that a number of people were excited about games that incorporate input from the ordinary world. These kinds of pervasive games were discussed in numerous presentations, but few seemed to have terminology to discuss the phenomenon. In our book we discuss these kinds of games as adaptronic based on what Bo Kampmann Walther wrote in his article Atomic Actions – Molecular Experience: Theory of Pervasive Gaming:
Adaptronic games are games consisting of applications and information systems that simulate life processes observed in nature. These games are embedded, flexible, and usually made up of ‘tangible bits’ that oscillate between virtual and real space. The goal is to position game entities (or clusters of game objects) that can change their configuration in real time relative to changes in the environment and relative to the behavioral patterns of gameplay. (Walther, 2005)
We do not dwell very deeply into this subject in the book, mainly because the concept is so simple. Yet making a game adaptronic is one of the easiest ways to make a game pervasive. In the research community adaptronics have usually been discussed in the context of weather: having real life weather patters influence the game has been seen as a worthy goal. (As a side note, Peter Molyneux mentioned at GDC that at one point months of work was wasted trying to have the weather in Black & White match the local weather where the game was played.) But having the weather in the game match the weather in the ordinary world isn’t really exciting enough to foster the thrill of mixing game and life. Even the cool Sharkrunners, which uses actual telemetry from real-life sharks, is still a little too conceptual and removed from the ordinary existence of the player to really feel like ordinary and game are blurring.
Instead, mining the ordinary world for information that is meaningful to the player seems to produce much more interesting results. Fantasy manager games and other sports games that use current information about the performance of athletes (such as NBA Live 365) as well as other fan games such as Hollywood Stock Exchange are fun as they create a game world that is not a frozen simulation of how the world once was, but a parallel world. The players get to play with mirror images of properties that have values that match those they have in the real world.
A third way is by using data generated by the player independetly of the game as input. Weekness, a mobile phone game for Nokia E71, generates questions based on the user’s text messages. In single player mode you must identified the sender (or recipient) of text messages on your phone. In two player mode each player tries to guess the ten most used words the other player uses in her messages.
Xobni is another interesting example. It is a plug-in to Microsoft Outlook that generates statistics, helps locate attachments and underlying social networks based on carbon copies etc. There is no game in Xobni, but it can be quite playful:
Xobni creates fun and revealing statistics to share with your friends and coworkers. Say “thanks” to the person inside your company that responds to you fastest. Or, tell the person that responds the slowest, “Thanks for nothing!” See who sends you the most email within your company — or across all of your email contacts. (Xobni web site)
This last type has some possible privacy issues that need to be tackled. It’s not difficult to come up with emails or text messages one doesn’t feel comfortable playing around with with other people. Both Xobni and Weekness seem to navigate this quite well as they do not share full messages with an unintended audience. Yet the experience of playing with bits and pieces of potentially private correspondence can be quite thrilling.