Synchronicity and gaming

I was interested to learn (via Mashable) that Hipster social location game Foursquare is launching in London at the end of the week. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s not in fact the primary school playground game we used to call “Champ”, but a location based social networking game played mainly via mobile apps, which involves players “checking in” whenever they visit a bar, restaurant, event or hangout to receive points based on frequency, pattern of activity, who else checks in at the same time as them and so on (there’s a full breakdown of points awarded in their Wikipedia entry). With enough points, a player becomes the “Mayor” of a particular venue, until someone else overtakes them.

Friends (and family) in the US tell me that it is hopelessly addictive and that it’s increasingly the first thing people do when arriving at an event these days.

I’m not sure that London has enough social butterflies and hipsters to make this take off in much the same way (who am I trying to kid? Of course it does!) but it reminded me a bit of two other things I’ve been engaged with in recent time.

The first is recently-acquired by Nokia social travel tracker Dopplr, which contains strong elements of synchronicity and coincidence built in to the user experience – while no points are awarded, the service tells you when your friends will be visiting your city, or when your scheduled trip will coincide with that of another traveller you’re linked to. In theory, that could mean that you’d be able to drop people a line saying “Hey, Dopplr tells me you’re going to be in Madrid at the same time I’m going to be there – let’s do lunch!” though in practice my experience has been that I tend to know when friends are going to be in the same place as me because we’re going there for the same conference or wedding or whatever.

But another game I’ve been playing recently (and really getting into) is the rather marvellous which is wonderfully simple yet very addictive. The game involves taking photos of things you’ve spotted and then geotagging them on Flickr.

You get points for noticing things
and points for being geographically near someone else’s noticing
and points for being the first noticing in a new area
and points for being noticed within a few minutes of another player’s noticings
and so on.

All you need to do to play is take a photo and upload it to Flickr, tag it “noticings” and make sure it has location data – some mobile phone apps include this on upload, but if not, you can always do it manually later, bearing in mind that points are only calculated on the previous 24 hours of noticings.

It appeals to me partly because it’s a habit I have anyway (spotting interesting things on my daily routine or extraordinary explorations and migrations across town) combined with a delicious frisson of pointy reward but for things which are not to do with effort but to do with coincidence and synchronicity and chance.

In other words, playing the game is rewarding in itself because it encourages you to open your eyes and capture interesting stuff in the everyday; getting points for doing so in a time/place which coincides (or not) with another player’s actions which you couldn’t know about is a delightful, random cherry on top.

2 thoughts on “Synchronicity and gaming

  1. I really don’t get Foursquare. I realise what I’m about to say will make me sound like a luddite, but it just seems like a way to annoy all your friends on Twitter with the constant irritating location updates – “Arthur just became Mayor of Sunshine Cafe!”- as well as offer up access to stalkers by informing them exactly where you are at a precise moment.

    Sure, I’m being paranoid (and self-obsessed/over-sensitive) regarding the latter, but really: why would anyone want to broadcast this information to the world all the time? And if you go “off the grid” (and therefore keep the address where you are private to your Twitter followers) then all you’re doing is collecting points – – which give you, er, nothing for doing so.

    I dunno, maybe I’m being too cynical (and snobbish) about it, but I really fail to see what all the hype is about. And if all my Twitter friends start joining and logging every bloody place they are at and filling my Twitter stream with updates about their location status, I suspect I will soon be unfollowing them.

    Have I got totally the wrong idea about Foursquare?!

  2. As we know. Attach plain old games points / kudos points / longevity points / yoda points to something, you’re guaranteed to increasing gaming activity. In fact, the more different types of points the better – alongside lovely graphic representations of points.

    (Although to some people, you’d have thought this was some kind of amazing revelation. Sigh)

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