4: Alternate Reality: Creating An Alternate View Of The Real World

The author opens with an interesting, albeit somewhat puzzling, anecdote: an "alternative reality game" was created that gave players GPS coordinates for 210 different locations and a countdown clock to a given time- and nothing more.

Players were puzzled, and put their minds to work on what it might mean. Some individuals plotted the points on a map to see if it made a picture. Others though that the letters in the names of the cities might be a code to be deciphered. Others did statistical analysis on the numbers themselves. Ultimately, people showed up at the coordinates provided and waited for something to happen.

(EN: To finish the story: it was a marketing stunt for Halo 2. The coordinates pointed to locations of pay phones, which rang at the appointed time, and an operator gave the player instructions to perform other tasks, which ultimately resulted in their getting an invite to a special premiere of the game. The concept won accolades from marketing groups for being innovative, but the incident was also a bit disturbing: some otherwise intelligent people will do what they are told without knowing the reason why, just out of curiosity to see what will happen if they obey bizarre orders from an unknown source.)

Creating an Alternate View of the Real World

The author contrasts the concepts of alternate reality and virtual reality. To clarify: virtual reality deals with an entirely simulated environment, whereas alternate reality is "an alternate view of the real world" that still exists in the realm of the real.

It's in this sense that experiences such as "I Love Bees" creates an alternate reality, by imposing data on a real-world environment that causes the user to think of it in a different way. What would normally be regarded as sidewalks, lobbies, convenience stores, etc. became coordinates in a game, which some saw as a puzzle to be solved.

While the necessity of being in a specific physical place at a specific time is an inconvenience, it's suggested that it gives those who choose to participate a sense that the event is all the more significant because of the effort they put into it. Participants in the game regarded it as being something significant, and "not just a game," and this level of commitment drove them forward, even without a sense of what the ultimate outcome would be.

(EN: this is a psychological trick that is used in many instances, and very effectively. People consider the resources they have already invested in a task, actual and emotional investment, and this makes them regard the task in itself as being of importance regardless of the expected outcome. Leveraging this is highly questionable, from a perspective of ethics, and I tend to wonder if the disappointment the customer feels when their "prize" is a marketing presentation outweighs the pleasure of the experience, with a net negative consequence for the brand.)

A few other examples are used to illustrate that this wasn't a singular stunt: other firms that move people about in the real world to maneuver them into physical locations where they are vulnerable to marketing, and even a company that offers a pay-to-play gaming experience in which players buy clues to their next destination.

The notion has also been used by theme parks: Disney World uses similar technology to guide players to different destinations in their theme parks, making the process of exploration as much a part of the theme park experience as the amusements themselves - or providing a thread that connects these otherwise disjointed and unrelated experiences.

(EN: This last example intrigues me, and is likely a more ethical application in that the player knows and accepts that he is being ordered about and gains value from following the instructions he is given.)

This goes on for a while, with the author describing various uses of technology to create "games" in real spaces, but it's just a lot of brief descriptions that don't seem to come to a particular point.

Applying Alternate Reality

An enumeration of tips and principles: