Sunday, April 6, 2008

Beyond the Television Screen

I just wanted to share a story of a neat game I played a year and a half ago.

On September 23, 2006, my friends and I attended a gaming event called the Manhattan Story Mashup held by Nokia, the mobile phone company. Over 250 participants showed up, each given a Nokia N80 cellphone a few days in advance. The cellphones came with a pre-installed game that was to be used at the event. The setup of the game is quite complicated so let me try to explain.

People would write short stories and submit them to the website. The nouns from the stories were selected to be "target words" for the players at the event. Each player would receive a random target word on their cellphone at regular intervals. They would then need to run around New York City, using the same cellphone to take pictures that would accurately convey the target word to another person. The pictures in turn are sent to two other random players and the two players must race against each other to guess the word that the picture represented in multiple choice fashion. Guessing the correct word would earn the player points, and likewise, the player who took the picture would receive points for being a good photographer. Were you able to catch all that? No? Well, I made a diagram to help you better understand.
At the very start of the game, my friend Gary and I headed downtown from Columbus Circle to Times Square. We both knew that Times Square would be the perfect place for picture taking, since the area is littered with commercial images and hundreds of people in motion. Our strategy paid off since we found a nice spot in front of the police station, where we took thirty to forty pictures that other people were able to match with the correct target words. By the end of the game, we finished with 412 points (which coincidentally, is my favorite 3-digit number), placing us in first place in the competition.

Many of the participants, including Gary and me, were really doubtful of the game before it began. It sounded like a cheap marketing gimmick and required too much investment. But we grew to love it as we played and coming out as the champions wasn't too bad either. The Story Mashup was a fun experiment to turn a video game into a social event, to take it beyond the television screen. With the Nintendo DS having Wifi and iPhones becoming a viable gaming platform, I would love to see a game of this caliber developed for those systems. This is all just wishful thinking...

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