Thursday, November 01, 2007

LARP: bringing games to life

Reading about the Tower of London GPS game has got me thinking about the future of role-playing gaming, gadgets, and some potentially interesting legal issues (this is a technology law blog after all, despite my efforts to forget that fact from time to time).

The growth of ubiquitous smart phones and GPS devices has opened up the world to the massification of Live Action Role-Playing Games (LARPs or LRPs). LARPs are not a new development. Dramatic re-enactment of open-ended scenarios has been with us for a while. However, up until now it has been seen as an uber-geek thing to do, designed only for people who like dressing up in weird costumes wielding swords and shouting at one another. However, new technologies have the potential to bring this practice back to life by using all sorts of portable devices that we already own.

The interaction between LARPs and new technologies have also the potential to resurrect Virtual Reality. Remember VR? It was one of the central plots in Cyberpunk novels of the early 90s, and it has been considered a bit passé. However, there seems to be a trend forming in bringing back some form of virtual reality. I'm currently reading Halting State, which in my opinion manages to depict the best application of what could be called the overlay world. Imagine goggles that allowed you to see everything normally, but with super-imposed data from the Internet that gave you directions, told you when your bus was coming (with a nice arrow display that told you where it was), and even marked people with criminal convictions (Stross jokingly mentions that the overlay could show neds with ASBOs). In the same book, Stross describes LARPs through the use of GPS and mobile phones, one of which is people playing at being football hooligans. Another recent book where this augmented reality is discussed is William Gibson's Spook Country, which describes potential artistic uses of AR displays to superimpose crime scenes involving dead celebrities, or to show giant objects that are not really there.

The implications for gaming are clear. If we could use a combination of GPS and AR goggles to display gaming overlays, the world would become a playground. See the success of the Wii in bringing gaming to non-gamers, and you can see the potential for the technology. Imagine games where you are part of a murder story, you go along with your normal life, but you could be given prompts to clues depending on your location.

And what about the legal implications? Where to begin? The first one is the potential ownership issues with the vast amounts of data that could be made available through these devices. Some content would have to be encrypted, or only available via specific proprietary devices, which brings the issues of payments, hacking and technological protection, not to mention RFIDs, privacy and all sorts of other issues.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Larry Niven's Dream Park (and sequels) were about exactly this. And very good fun they were too. IIRC the first two novels in the series used holograms as their tech - but the third one (1992) used VR overlays.