LARPing for fun and profit

I don’t really have much real-world experience with live action role playing games (or that phrase an oxymoron), but I do enjoy game mechanics and I hate doing my chores.

For the truly uninitiated who may have never even played a tabletop or MMO(RPG), here’s a brief video as a reference point to LARPs:

I’m fairly certain that clip inspired a good portion of the movie Role Models, but I can’t be totally sure.

Most of us probably don’t have the extemporaneous acting skills, free time or foam weaponry fabrication (smithing?) skills to participate in a LARP session but we love playing casual games on our phones and on Facebook.

A couple of posts this week by Jeff Hilimire and Thomas Strickland – mainly on the topics of location-awareness and technology’s place in place-based transactions got me thinking along a parallel path: gaming.

One of the hallmarks of most of the current crop of time-wasters (everything from check-in apps of various stripes, to FarmVille to even Twitter itself) are achievements. They take many forms: badges, buttons, mayorships, stars and even virtual goods and cash. But they share the feature of rewarding certain behaviors and actions with the acquisition of “flair” no matter how fleeting or ephemeral.

This idea of “the gameification of everything” has been rolling around in my head for months, since I first saw Kottke’s blog post, saw Jesse Schell’s DICE talk and heard about Jane McGonigal’s “SuperBetter” post-concussion ARG.

Here’s a recent video of a talk Jane gave in RE: SuperBetter:

These things may not seem related to why (or why not) technologies like Twitter or Foursquare or GetGlue ultimately survive, but they definitely have taught me that, as social animals, one need we have that exists right alongside this pure need to be social and share, is a desire to play, to have fun and to be rewarded in some way for our accomplishments. It starts with “tag” and moves to chess and now it’s XBOX Live and – some would argue – things like Gowalla and Miso.

But what I would argue (finally!) that “stand alone” experiences will never go away because, although most of the current crop of apps are about the “social”, you have to consider the personal, singular effects that these experiences have on the users/players who interact with them.

Do I think Foursquare will be around in 2 years? No.
Do I think Twitter will be around in 5 years? No.
Do I think Farmville will be around in 10 years? Yes.

Games are different and the introduction of game mechanics (and game-like risks & rewards) changes the math of what I’d think of as purely “social media” implementations.

What I’m most interested in (currently) are alternate reality games, social games and game-like constructs that help educate, inform and get things done. Two excellent examples, the upcoming Epic Win App and the Chore Wars RPG. The former is a GTD app/game for smartphones and the latter is an RPG framework for familial household duties. Fun AND good for you!

It’s these kinds of experiences – fun first – that I think point the way for future endeavors. You’ll always have loyalty-card-like systems (WeReward, Foursquare) but how about a “game” that gives me credit/points/something for calling my brother or working out regularly or giving an awesome presentation. One could argue that there are already portions of this functionality in other apps, but maybe I’ve just argued myself back around to this concept of pervasiveness that Jeff & Thomas put much more eloquently than I have thus far.

And while I think some if not most of the social technology and sites we have today will be gone in the near future, I think games/gaming are here to stay. The rub will be how does an activity I take in a game affect the real world? Donations to Haiti via Farmville is one way. Or how does an action I take upon entering a store or making a purchase or doing something here and now affect the game world on a server in China?

In the end, my post title is pretty meaningless given the current state of LARPs and ARGs. What I want is a better world (ha!) where I can snap a picture of the building I’m in or a QR code to update my game status for points that influence my fitness regimen or my diet and that tie back in to my game console, my TV and my running shoes. Like PerplexCity if had been played via phones. Or something like that. Maybe even like UGA’s Personal Media / Public Good projects.

It’s late and I’ve rambled on long enough. My ultimately-buried lede: while passivity is the logical outcome for all things social, active participation and outright gaming also have a long history and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon The fun begins when the games activate socially and the social activity you take without thinking about it affects your game.

Game on!

One thought on “LARPing for fun and profit

  1. Your confidence in Farmville is sobering, though I would say that the platform for Farmville access will shift and grow. In fact, it already is, as Farmville is going mobile.

    But my concern with Farmville is that it is such an out-and-out grind. Once the initial novelty wears out, there’s no actual or artificial challenge. Play long enough and you’ll accumulate. I’m hoping that there will be a kind of WOW-ification, that the gameplay elements of exploration and competition (beyond show-and-tell) will be incorporated. I’ve no interest in growing wheat, corn, wheat, corn, pumpkins … but FarmQuest? Maybe so.

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