Around the age of seven I began creating treasure hunts for siblings and friends. I was inspired by the Indiana Jones movies and the Usborne series of puzzle books. I created a series of clues and puzzles that would ultimately lead them to an item hidden somewhere in the neighbourhood or backyard.
But there were problems.
One Saturday morning I created a hunt for my sister while she was at choir practice. Once she arrived home I gave her the first clue and set her on her way. It didn’t last long. She came back saying that she couldn’t find the next clue. It had either been moved or the instructions were too vague. This was a common complaint and also the reason why most of my challenges were never completed.
As I got older I realized that verbal clues are tricky because they rely on interpretation. If the creator and player do not share the same frame of reference it can get rather frustrating. The other problem is that the player will inevitably ask advice but doing so will ruin their sense of independence. So I realized back then that the ideal would be to monitor the player’s progress and offer advice without having to follow them around.
Fast forward to 2011 and there’s a range of location based games available on mobile phones. I decided to try out Tourality because it was the only IMGA Best Real World Game nominee available for Nokia / Blackberry.
Tourality allows you to turn your neighborhood into a playground. To create a game you choose locations in your area that players have to reach. You then set the type of challenge RACE, TRAIL, CHASE, RUSH or ACT and you’re ready to go. I created a game in Tamboerskloof by selecting 7 targets and set out one morning before work to try it out. Here’s how it went:
- I step out on the street and press start. The aim is to reach all seven spots in the fastest time.
- I’d thought about the best route, leaving the furthest one on top of the hill till last.
- I run to the Primary School first and then realize that I should have made it my starting position to save 2 minutes on the clock.
- I run down to The Power & The Glory corner and then to Park road to get to the dead end.
- At this point I realize that it’s slightly annoying that I have to take the phone out to check whether the program knows that I reached the target.
- The phone does vibrate and make a beep sound when you reach the right location but both of these are hard to notice when you’re running. I think the designers can solve this problem by changing the beep to something longer and louder.
- I make my way to the entrance of the police stables. I’m quite exhausted and opt to walk the steep bits and run the rest.
- By the time I’ve reached 6 targets I notice a treasure chest appear at the end of another cul-de-sac. This is interesting because I hadn’t chosen the target. The program recognized it as a position sufficiently out of my way to serve as a challenge with a surprise reward.
- I decide to ignore the treasure and continue with my planned route. (The second time I played a treasure chest appeared outside Arnold’s on Kloof Street)
- Getting to the last target is the most exciting because I have never been there before.
- I reach the first bend of Leeukloof Dr and get an idea. Could I skip the loop bend by cutting up through the bushes?
- I go for it but unfortunately (although fortunate at the time) the program is tricked into thinking that I’ve already reached the dead end even though there’s still a huge house in my way.
I had completed the game set in 23:09 min. I could also view the distance traveled, average speed and altitude. Walking back home I thought about what I enjoyed most and what else we could do with location based games.
The most exciting element was doing a speed challenge in an unfamiliar road. I’d played a single player game but I imagine Tourality is at its best played with friends and neighbours. If playing in unfamiliar territory lends a sense of adventure then the ideal is that friends set up challenges for one another instead of playing their own maps.
To be more than a running exercise it needs have an element of strategy. If success is determined solely by fitness then the game is merely a race.
That’s why a capture the flag game mode would be excellent. Two teams compete for control of targets in their neighbourhood. The amount of targets should be greater than the number of players to deter camping. Players can monitor the movement of all the other players on their mobile screen and adapt their strategy accordingly.
To play such a game without the use of mobile technology would be difficult. Administrating the game would be too complex. The lack of a central communication system would also mean that players wouldn’t know who’s winning or whether the game is still on.
Mobile technology gives us a system to administrate such outdoor challenges and lets us invent new ways of interacting with our environment.