Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Tag: digital-physical

The Copenhagen Wheel

For a long time, I've been interested in getting an electric bike, especially after I saw the Optibike at the California Academy of Sciences. Via the Daily Dish, I came across an MIT hybrid bicycle project that looks like just the thing: the Copenhagen Wheel. Check out the video:

Not completely clear from the video exactly how it works, but I like how elegantly it attaches to a bicycle (some bike motors look like real kludges), and that it also is a smart device:

Dyson Award-winning design:

Smart, responsive and elegant, it transforms existing bicycles quickly into hybrid electric-bikes with regeneration and real-time sensing capabilities. Its sleek red hub not only contains a motor, batteries and an internal gear system – helping cyclists overcome hilly terrains and long distances – but also includes environmental and location sensors that provide data for cycling-related mobile applications. Cyclists can use this data to plan healthier bike routes, to achieve their exercise goals or to create new connections with other cyclists. Through sharing their data with friends or their city, they are also contributing to a larger pool of information from which the whole community can benefit.

It's called the Copenhagen Wheel because the bike-friendly wants to increase the number of people who cycle, and worked wit the team to

to investigate how small amounts of technology could improve the cycling experience and how the four main obstacles to getting people on bikes – distance, topography, infrastructure and safety – could be overcome. What has resulted is the Copenhagen Wheel: a new type of electric smart-bike which utilizes a technical solution for overcoming distance and topography (a motor and batteries with regeneration capabilities that can provide riders with a boost when needed) and a real-time data network and series of applications to support infrastructure creation and foster a sense of safety.

Trading intelligence for resources; encouraging mergers of people and devices on human terms rather than device terms; bringing information to users in context– all great examples of an end of cyberspace device.

Car cost-sharing: finally around the corner?

Back in 2004, when I was a columnist for Red Herring, I wrote a piece about what would happen when reputation systems make their way into the world— that is, when they stop being things that we only consult in online transactions, and become things we can consult easily in real-world transactions. I talked about how they could jump-start car-sharing systems.

Today, I saw an article about RelayRides, a

person-to-person car-sharing service, which will be launching soon in Baltimore. Unlike fleet-based services—Zipcar, City CarShare, I-GO, and others—which maintain their own vehicles, RelayRides relies on individual car owners to supply the vehicles that other members will rent.

There are a couple other services like this, including Divvycar, but there seems to be a sense that these systems are ready to take off. So "why are peer-to-peer car-sharing services emerging now?"

Part of the answer might lie in the way online and offline services like Zipcar, Prosper, Netflix, and Kiva.org are training us to share our stuff—people are simply getting used to the idea. “‘Zip’ has become a verb to the point that we could ‘zip’ anything—they just happened to start it with cars. Close on their heels was Avelle (formerly Bag, Borrow Or Steal) and now SmartBike for bikes on demand. The next step seems to be a crowd-sourced version of Zipcar,” says Freed.

Another part of the answer might be found in our response to the ecological and economic crises Americans are facing. As Clark explains, “You just think of the number of cars on the road, and the resource that we have in our own communities is so massive… what the peer-to-peer model does is it really allows us to leverage that instead of starting from scratch and building our own fleet.”

From an individual’s perspective, peer-to-peer sharing is a means for owners to monetize their assets during times when they don’t require access to them. But peer-to-peer models can also be understood to utilize existing resources more efficiently—ultimately, to reduce the number of cars on the road—through shifted mentalities about ownership, the intelligent organization of information and, increasingly, through real-time technologies.

Since peer-based car-sharing companies don’t bear the overhead costs of owning and maintaining their own fleets, they don’t require the high utilization rates for vehicles that Zipcar and similar programs do—the result is comparatively fewer limitations for the size and scale of peer-to-peer operations.

Always satisfying for a futurist to see the future actually start to arrive.

Digital devices and embodied energy

In one of John Thackara's Doors of Perception reports, I came across the concept of digital devices as "embodied energy." The term is used by Kris De Decker in a piece on "the monster footprint of digital technology," and it's intended to call attention to the very large amount of energy that is consumed during the manufacturing of electronics. But it also is a data-point in how we no longer think of digital devices as portals to another world, but rather think more about their connections to this one.

The energy used to produce electronic gadgets is considerably higher than the energy used during their operation. For most of the 20th century, this was different; manufacturing methods were not so energy-intensive.

An old-fashioned car uses many times more energy during its lifetime (burning gasoline) than during its manufacture. The same goes for a refrigerator or the typical incandescent light bulb…. Advanced digital technology has turned this relationship upside down. A handful of microchips can have as much embodied energy as a car. And since digital technology has brought about a plethora of new products, and has also infiltrated almost all existing products, this change has vast consequences.

Not only do electronics use more energy in manufacturing than in use, they require a LOT more energy per unit of material to manufacture.

[W]hile the ratio of fossil fuel use to product weight is 2 to 1 for most manufactured products (you need 2 kilograms of fuel for 1 kilogram of product), the ratio is 12 to 1 for a computer (you need 12 kilograms of fuel for 1 kilogram of computer). Considering an average life expectancy of 3 years, this means that the total energy use of a computer is dominated by production (83% or 7,329 megajoule) as opposed to operation (17%). Similar figures were obtained for mobile phones….

The energy needed to manufacture microchips is disproportional to their size. MIT-researcher Timothy Gutowski compared the material and energy intensity of conventional manufacturing techniques [machining, injection molding and casting] with those used in semiconductor and in nanomaterial production (a technology that is being developed for use in all kinds of products including electronics, solar panels, batteries and LEDs)…. While there are significant differences between configurations, all these manufacturing methods require between 1 and 10 megajoule of electricity per kilogram of material. This corresponds to 278 to 2,780 watt-hour of electricity per kilogram of material. Manufacturing a one kilogram plastic or metal part thus requires as much electricity as operating a flat screen television for 1 to 10 hours (if we assume that the part only undergoes one manufacturing operation).

The energy requirements of semiconductor and nanomaterial manufacturing techniques are much higher than that: up to 6 orders of magnitude (that's 10 raised to the 6th power) above those of conventional manufacturing processes (see figure below, source, supporting information). This comes down to between 1,000 and 100,000 megajoules per kilogram of material, compared to 1 to 10 megajoules for conventional manufacturing techniques.

It would be interesting to compare the amount of intellectual energy that goes into the design of, say, a car versus a microchip. I've long thought of digital devices as being knowledge-intensive and resource-light– a laptop computer embodies a lot more intelligence than an iron bar– but this has always been a conceptual thing, not something that I tried to measure.

Game features in the real world

When I've spoken about the end of cyberspace, and the displacement of the idea of cyberspace as a Platonic plane of information, separate from and superior to the real world, someone's almost asked, "But what about Second Life?" (or World of Warcraft, or Everquest, depending on what year we're talking about). The idea is that these kinds of games and game-worlds represents a continuation of the vision of cyberspace as alternate world.

My response has been twofold. First, despite claims about the utility (or potential utility) of Second Life to business, or the number of hours devoted players spend in World of Warcraft, so far as I can tell, nobody argues that these constitute alternatives to physical reality that will lead to the death of the office or the transformation of travel. They have their appeal, but their appearance is not a sign that the tectonic plates of reality are starting to rumble. Second, it looks more likely that with the coming of ubiquitous computing, some of the kinds of interactions and feedback that make games compelling are going to migrate into the real world, but with serious social and economic implications.

This evening I ran across a piece by Brett McCallon on the growing pervasiveness of games in everyday life that echoes this last point:

"Lexulous", and the game's incredible popularity on Facebook, does say something about the way that gaming is infiltrating the experience of seemingly non-gaming-related activities. As gaming becomes more mainstream, and as designers learn to use gaming mechanics to enhance our work, education and relaxation, we can envision a time in which nearly every experience offers the possibility, if not the requirement, for play….

Exercise is only one of the non-gaming areas into which gaming has intruded in recent years. Games that teach foreign languages, cooking and other skills are also becoming increasingly popular…. Even such mundane activities as household chores can be made less onerous through the addition of gaming mechanics. A free, web-based game called "Chore Wars" lets players apply traditional role-play game rules to their laundry, dishwashing and vacuuming duties. For each completed task, players are granted "experience", "gold", etc, which helps their characters advance through imagined quests. It's a fairly basic system, but as a means of motivating lazy spouses and housemates to pull their weight, it could be quite helpful.

I think McCallon's argument is inaccurate but in a revealing way. It's inaccurate in the sense that while we are going to see the growth of feedback and incentive systems around everyday activities, they're not going to really be games. They may borrow some bits and pieces from games– familiar visual tropes, rewards, and the like– but they won't turn housework into a game, any more than my offering my son a quarter to clean his room turns my family into a labor market.

But what's revealing about the piece is that it suggests how likely we are to embrace the language of games when thinking about, and interacting with, these technology. I saw something of this when I was interviewing people about the impact of the Prius MPG estimator on driver behavior. As I wrote in 2008,

Interestingly, many drivers describe efforts to boost their fuel efficiency as a kind of game. One driver, a former Silicon Valley tech executive and car afficionado, recalls that "When I got my Prius, it absolutely felt like I was piloting a large, rolling video game, seeing how to optimize the mileage." Another, a Valley educator, reports that driving her Prius has "become a game for me. I always try to improve the mpg over the last trip." When I gave my end of cyberspace talk at IDEO last week, I brought up the Prius MPG estimator, and one personal immediately said, "It's like a game!" Game designer Amy Jo Kim recalled, "When I first got my Prius 4 years ago, I was completely transfixed by the real-time MPG display. Multi-scale feedback! I could see my mileage per tank, in 5-minute increment, and moment-to-moment. I experimented with my driving style, trying to beat my "high score" each day." A 2006 Cnet article described the Prius as "a mobilized video game… surely the most expensive, biggest gaming machine built… so far."

This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but think about how many times we borrow bits and pieces of phrasing from one realm and apply it to another, and how those borrowings have but a limited influence. We talk about business as war, or coworkers as teams, but we understand that these metaphors don't mean we should bomb a competitor's offices. Doubtless we'll be able to learn some things from game designers about how to improve the interfaces for, say, home energy monitoring systems, but it's not clear that creating an entire game– complete with characters, more elaborate rules, goals, etc.– would be necessary or even desirable to achieve substantial energy savings.

[To the tune of Peter Gabriel, "Intruder (Live)," from the album Plays Live (I give it 2 stars).]

One last high-frequency trading post for the day

Even though this is a perfect illustration of things I talk about in the book, I'll do one more round of quotes (which'll find their way into the book), then turn to other things.

First, via Andymatic, this piece from Ars Technica:

The Matrix, but with money: the world of high-speed trading

Supercomputers pitted against one another in a high-stakes battle of attack and counterattack over a global network where predatory algorithms trawl the information stream, competing every millisecond to gain an informational advantage over rivals. It sounds like Hollywood fiction, but it's just an average trading day on the stock market.

Because high-frequency trading is, as Richard Bookstaber has recently described it, an "arms race" where relative speed matters much more than absolute speed, this market is one of the few left with a demand for raw performance at any cost. Indeed, my personal introduction to the world of HFT came in bits and pieces over the past few years via parts of briefings from the Intel, NVIDIA, AMD and their would-be competitors, all of whom have been aggressively pursuing this market….

In all, it's ironic that the hardware that HFT platforms are using to battle it out over stocks, bonds, commodities, and other assets is essentially the same as the technology that PC gamers are using to play their own games with much lower stakes.

And this observation from Rich Bookstaber:

I think the days for high frequency trading are numbered. For one thing, high frequency trading is capacity constrained like few other strategies. The high frequency trader is basically a stand-alone market maker; he is sitting there to provide liquidity to others. And one way he provides it is to pull in the positions that others will shortly be demanding – thus the need for speed. If the footprint for high frequency traders gets too large, they become liquidity demanders themselves, and the gig is up. The Renaissances of the strategy will make their way through, but generally we will see a lot of shooting stars.

A second reason is that high frequency trading is embroiled in an arms race. And arms races are negative sum games. The arms in this case are not tanks and jets, but computer chips and throughput. But like any arms race, the result is a cycle of spending which leaves everyone in the same relative position, only poorer. Put another way, like any arms race, what is happening with high frequency trading is a net drain on social welfare.

[To the tune of Transglobal Underground, "Khalghi Stomp," from the album Versions (I give it 1 stars).]

More on high-frequency trading and colocation

This from a 2007 article from Low Latency:

Firms are turning to electronic trading, in part because a 1-millisecond advantage in trading applications can be worth millions of dollars a year to a major brokerage firm. That is why colocation — in which firms move the systems running their algorithms as close to the exchanges as possible — is so popular.

The need for speed has opened up opportunities for nontraditional competitors in the space, and it has provided established exchanges with new revenue opportunities, such as colocation services for companies that wish to place their servers in direct physical proximity to the exchanges' systems. Electronic trading also has created opportunities for a new class of vendors — execution services firms and systems integrators promising the fastest possible transaction times….

Physical colocation eliminates the unavoidable time lags inherent in even the fastest wide area networks. Servers in shared data centers typically are connected via Gigabit Ethernet, with the ultrahigh-speed switching fabric called InfiniBand increasingly used for the same purpose, relates Yaron Haviv, CTO at Voltaire, a supplier of systems that Haviv contends can achieve latencies of less than 1 millionth of a second….

The NYSE will begin reducing its 10 data centers, including those associated with Euronext, to two in the next couple of years, says CTO Steve Rubinow. Colocation, Rubinow says, not only guarantees fast transactions but also predictable ones. "If you've got some trades going through at 10 milliseconds and some at 1 millisecond, that's a problem," he says. "Our customers don't like variance."

There's also this interesting tidbit about place and security:

Later this year, Nasdaq will shutter its data center in Trumbull, Conn., and move all operations to one opened last year in New Jersey, with a backup in the mid-Atlantic region, the exchange's Hyndman says. (Trading firms and exchanges are reluctant to disclose the exact locations of their data centers.)

So what's this mean for the future?

Once you hit physical limits to data-transmission speeds, where do you go from there?… There are two schools of thought on this issue. One is that traders, exchanges and brokers must shave latency from other parts of the system — in the applications they use, for instance — and that the race will continue.

The other is that latency will cease to be an issue once everyone has access to the same trading infrastructure and that other, older-school elements of the business, such as customer service and market savvy, will once again become the differentiators. "Shortly, we'll be talking micro- versus milliseconds, and at that point speed will probably have less and less relevance," says Lime Brokerage's [Alistair] Brown. "Once you've got half a dozen systems that can all handle that kind of throughput, then you have to distinguish yourself somewhere else."

[To the tune of Fear Of Pop, "In Love," from the album Versions (I give it 3 stars).]

Read it in the line for tickets to Maker Faire

My latest article, on tinkering and the future, has been published in the latest issue of Vodafone's Receiver Magazine. The piece is an effort to draw together a couple of my research and personal interests (though the boundaries between those two categories is pretty blurry), and to see the tinkering / DIY movement as one piece in an emerging strategy for creating better futures.

Almost forty years ago, the Whole Earth Catalog published its last issue. For the American counterculture, it was like the closing of a really great café: the Catalog had brought together the voices of contributors, readers and editors, all unified by a kind of tech-savvy, hands-on, thoughtful optimism. Don't reject technology, the Catalog urged: make it your own. Don't drop out of the world: change it, using the tools we and your fellow readers have found. Some technologies were environmentally destructive or made you stupid, others were empowering and trod softly on the earth; together we could learn which were which.

Millions found the Catalog's message inspirational. In promoting an attitude toward technology that emphasized experimentation, re-use and re-invention, seeing the deeper consequences of your choices, appreciating the power of learning to do it yourself and sharing your ideas, the Whole Earth Catalog helped create the modern tinkering movement. Today, tinkering is growing in importance as a social movement, as a way of relating to technology and as a source of innovation. Tinkering is about seizing the moment: it is about ad-hoc learning, getting things done, innovation and novelty, all in a highly social, networked environment.

What is interesting is that at its best, tinkering has an almost Zen-like sense of the present: its 'now' is timeless. It is neither heedless of the past or future, nor is it in headlong pursuit of immediate gratification. Tinkering offers a way of engaging with today's needs while also keeping an eye on the future consequences of our choices. And the same technological and social trends that have made tinkering appealing seem poised to make it even more pervasive and powerful in the future. Today we tinker with things; tomorrow, we will tinker with the world.

Local bloggers as city guides

Another data-point (from the Guardian) on how the decline of cyberspace encourages digital information to migrate from screens to streets, from planning and research phases of activities to decision-making, and from formality and permanence to informality and immediacy.

Spotted by Locals is a network of city bloggers providing up-to-the-minute local information – from a cosy London hideaway to Madrid's best kept museum secret.

Like many great ideas, Spotted by Locals was conceived after a few beers. Dutch couple Sanne and Bart van Poll were on a city break to Brussels in 2007, and abandoned their customary guidebook in favour of tips gleaned from a Belgian blogger whose jib they like the sound of. "We went to the bars and restaurants he frequents, and walked around in the hidden local neighbourhood that was certainly not in our paper guide," says Bart. And in one of said bars, they came up with the idea that would imminently lead to both of them quitting their day jobs.

Spotted by Locals is a network of European city blogs written by over 80 local bloggers who Sanne and Bart have met personally since coming up with the idea. Each city blog is manned by a number of enthusiastic local "spotters", ranging from 18-year old Czech medicine students to 60-year old Belgian retirees. As the bloggers are all writing in second (or third) languages, the prose can occasionally be a little clunky, but therein lies its beauty: authentically local, on-the-ground advice. And, like all good blog content, the focus is on keeping up. "All tips are always up-to-date. Our Spotters only write about places they visit regularly, and update the information in the article frequently."

You could also do this in a more fluid fashion, if you mined Technorati for city names plus certain other terms, like vacation, travel, or a word that a service looks for.

Games without frontiers

[From the Red Herring blog, 2005]

1.

I was about ten when I saw my first video game. As a kid obsessed with science fiction, astronomy, and computers, Nolan Bushnell's Pong seemed like the coolest object this side of a telescope clock drive. Growing up, I would spend more hours (and quarters) playing video games than I like to think about: the worlds of Defender and Xevious came be to as familiar to me as my backyard, but a lot more exciting.

Like most kids of my generation, I thought of video games as an alternative reality. Not only were the games other worlds: arcades were inevitably dark, slightly space-agey places populated entirely by teenagers.

Of course, games have come a long way since then. In technical terms, video games are more complex, realistic, open-ended, and intense than in my boyhood, but they're fundamentally conservative technologies. Despite all the changes around the edges—the better graphics, the spectacular violence, the five hundred-button controllers that you have to learn to use in utero—they're still worlds in boxes, ultrasophisticated versions of arcade games or personal computers of old. Playstation and Xbox are incremental improvements over Galaxian and Pac Man: granted, they're very big increments, but my 10 year-old self would have no trouble grokking a Playstation.

2.

But the game world is poised to undergo a revolution. In the coming decade, everything that I took for granted about video games will change. They won't be alternate realities; they won't be confined to edgy spaces with names like Station Break; and they won't be arcade-like experiences. We'll have games without frontiers.

To appreciate this revolution and what it'll mean, we need to take video games serious. Too often, games don't get no respect. They're easy to dismiss as a social problem, to criticize as a waste of time, or insult as the lowest form of pop culture. But games matter. Video games have driven innovations in hardware, software, and interface design. For better or worse, they're big business, and major sociological phenomena. (This isn't just the case in the United States: the Korean multiplayer game Lineage has about 4 million subscribers—almost ten percent of the population.) Games metaphors are woven through our language, and structure the way we behave at work and approach relationships.

And playing video games isn't always the isolating, alienating experience that some critics make it out to be: LAN parties bring together game players, and Lineage clans will take over Internet cafes for an afternoon, playing together in both virtual and physical space. People can be just as creative around games as they are within them.

Multiplayer games have already capitalized on this fact. There are hardly any successful PC games that don't have multiplayer capability, and massive online games like Everquest are creating a new art form out of persistent, open-ended worlds. They show just how much farther we can take video games before we exhaust their potential.

3.

The future of video games will be driven by two kinds of changes: a proliferation of interfaces between games and players' bodies; and an integration of game-worlds and the real world.

It's strange that video games and exercise equipment have never gotten together. There have been a few exercise bikes with cycling video games, or video game controllers that attach to exercise equipment. But only in the last few years have we seen games that involve players' bodies, not just their thumbs. Dance Dance Revolution, in which players copy dance moves on a sensor-laded pad rather than a handheld controller, was the breakout game in this genre. Previous attempts to marry exercise and video games had been failures: exercise equipment companies couldn't make compelling games, video game companies couldn't figure out how to build interesting alternative input devices, and early products remained too expensive for the mass market. DDR showed that there was a serious market for games that involved more of our bodies, and that such games had an attraction that went beyond video games' traditional young, testosterone-heavy core market. In fact, for some players, DDR isn't a "video game," but serious exercise—a substitute for health clubs, not a competitor to Halo.

Other companies are building on the concept of video game as an exercise machine. Yourself!Fitness, which was released this fall, is aimed squarely at women. Some of its elements are drawn from exercise videos: it has a peppy soundtrack, encouraging instructor (Maya), and a variety of exotic workout locations (a desert resort, a Matrix-like dojo). But it also creates an exercise program based on your physical shape and fitness goals, chooses exercises that use exercise equipment (hand weights, Pilates ball) you already have, introduces new routines over time, and adjusts its difficulty depending on your performance. It's not a deeply interactive game in the way DDR is, but it uses customization to create an interesting variety, and to deepen the relationship that players have with Maya and the regimen.

4.

Some electronic games are recasting the relationship between bodies and game-play. Others use things in the real world as resources for games that you play partly in the real world, partly in game space.

The great example is geocaching, a game that draws on GPS and the Web. Shortly after the U.S. government sharpened civilian GPS signals (they had previously been kept purposely fuzzy for security reasons), people began hiding "caches"—usually just a few simple objects in a box—in various places, posting approximate geographical coordinates and hints about a cache's precise location on the Geocaching Web site (at www.geocaching.org). People who find a cache may take an object, leave an object, and note their find online.

The game is completely unregulated and unsubsidized, anarchic in the classic sense. It's also growing like mad. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of players and tens of thousands of caches worldwide. The caches themselves now constitute their own field, and are supporting the growth of new games: geobugs, for example, requires players to move marked tokens between caches, with the aim of fulfilling some goal—having a bug visit all 50 U.S. states, for example, or every country in the EU.

Interestingly, in its early days, geocaching was described as a kind of nerd treasure hunt, an activity that would appeal to gadget freaks, or the kind of sportsmen who buy radar for their fishing boat or military surplus laser sights on their deer rifles. More recently, however, as the cost of GPS units has fallen and the number of geocaching sites has grown, the game has been redefined as outdoor family fun—a way to get kids away from the Playstation and into the world.

Other games combine the power of the Web with information that resides in things. In Where's George (www.wheresgeorge.com), players tag dollar bills with a message to register a bill's serial number online, and to record the date and place they found the bill. The result is a kind of travel history of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even more fanciful is Skannerz, a handheld game based on the premise that warring alien species inhabit bar codes, thanks to an out-of-control nanotechnology weapon (I know, not the world's most linear plot line). Players build characters by scanning UPC codes, which are on virtually everything, and "collecting" weapons and talents (a quest that anyone exposed to role-playing games will immediately recognize).

5.

Geocaching uses the Web and GPS to help players find (and find out about) objects in the real world. Other games treat the physical world as a kind of game-board, and make physical proximity an element of the gaming experience.

Not surprisingly, the most popular of these games are played on cell phones. Mogi is a treasure hunt game in Japan, in which players navigate their way through Tokyo to locations where they can pick up electronic prizes. There's no physical good to collect—the prizes are virtual—but you can't get them sitting at your computer. Scandanavia's Battlebots, in contrast, operates not in specific physical places, but in social spaces: players cluster into cafes or parks to pit their bots against each other.

From a technical standpoint, these are relatively simple games: no one is hooked on Mogi or Battlebots by the bleeding-edge graphics, or the compelling storyline. What seems to be appealing about them is two other things. First, they fill idle time. Lots of Battlebots games happen on trains or buses, and Mogi prizes tend to be near public transportation stops. Second, they find serendipity in the random, often anonymous experience of traveling and living in modern urban cities. The person three seats down on the morning train may become your sworn digital enemy, but at least you've connected.

6.

So what will games look like in the future? Some people will continue to prefer the world of first-person shooters, and will look to their Playstations or Xboxes as a retreat from the world. On the other hand, other players will take electronic games more deeply into the real world, and create new kinds of games.

One obvious move will be to map video games into physical places. Imagine, for example, college students creating Everquest spaces that are only accessible on-campus; overlaying Doom 3 on a building, turning a student center or parking structure into a monster-infested death zone; or creating game challenges that can only be played in subway stops when more than four players are present. Games like Everquest and the Sims have shown that players are capable of exercising remarkable ingenuity creating online spaces and resources; giving them the ability to apply these skills in the real world could exponentially multiply a game's variety, difficulty and appeal. It would also broaden a franchise beyond the console, and bring in players who would never consider sitting down in front a screen.

Another move will be to create games that blend virtual and real economies. As economist Edward Castronova has discovered, players in massively multiplayer games may create thousands of dollars of wealth, and build elaborate underground economies in which they trade virtual goods—often using real money. There economies are currently black markets—game companies claim to own everything in their games—but eventually, a smart company will realize that this phenomenon is a feature, not a bug. But this doesn't have to be confined to trades of money for virtual goods: you might redeem frequent flyer miles for Elven chain-mail, earn strength points for your avatar by reaching your real-world fitness goals, or be awarded secret powers after making the dean's list.

The examples of geocaching and Where's George show that we should also take a broader view of what a successful game can be. They needn't be like board games of sports, with end-points and clear winners; geocaching isn't a competitive sport. For example, imagine a courier game consisting of teams of players scattered around the country. The objective of the game would be to get a digital package—which can only be passed between players via Bluetooth-enabled PDAs and cell phones, say—from one end of the country. Each player would be required to make contact with the package (so I couldn't just take it with me on a trip I'd already planned); but teams can recruit others to carry the package from city to city. In such a game, the fun wouldn't be in the rapid-fire play, but in the challenge of enlisting and organizing teammates and friends.

© 2017 Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

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