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An Idea, not really mine, but now it's on my mind

So, Your Humble Blogger was strolling in one of our fine local parks the other day, conversing with the Perfect Non-Reader and the Youngest Member, and the idea came up of having a game (for the tablet or phone) set in the park. And I pointed out that such a game would potentially be good advertising for the park, raising its profile and such. And the three of us brainstormed a huge and complicated game—or, rather, one of those games that contains minigames and quests and such, where the central “game” of (in our case) making a rose garden is more like a kind of fun way to keep score of all the rest of the things in the game package. There was a game called Snoopy’s Street Fair five or six years ago that did something of the kind, and I believe things in the game world have advanced somewhat since then… anyway, the general idea was that there would be various activities you could do in the game that would be associated with things that could be done in the park—simple things like dog-walking, tennis or baseball as well as complicated things like putting on concerts, running the cafĂ© or planting the gardens. But you could tie it in with the actual park.

You could have real-world events at the park for which you could sign up and receive points (or seeds or petals or whatever players would trade for things they want in the game). Or the other way—you could do something in the game that would qualify you for a free ice-cream cone or discount on dahlias. You could have the palette of games change with the seasons (sledding in winter! raking in autumn! baseball in the summer! allergy attacks in the spring!) and you could have alerts or messages for various events in the park. One of my children suggested that people could upload pictures they took in the park, which could then be incorporated in the games.

And it seemed to us that it could go much bigger—you could, for instance, connect with a local business, arranging for them to sponsor a clean-up day in the park and having their logo or a banner on the log-in page for a fortnight. Or connect with the local high school team for a season, or a tournament. You could have, it was suggested, a mini-game where you weed the garden of an elderly neighbor, and when you completed your task, in addition to your in-game reward, the game could point you to upcoming volunteer opportunities. I suspect almost any local event could be connected to something the game, or a mini-game could be created for it. At the least, you could have a quick link from the gazebo where you start each day to a local calendar of news and events.

And it occurred to me to wonder—is nobody already doing this? I mean, I understand we’re talking about something ridiculously expensive, but (a) it might not look so expensive in the city budget, where millions of dollars are already being allocated for things, and (2) there are cities and towns and parks (or other similar local landmarks) that have the money for ridiculously expensive things. A Golden Gate Park game, or a Central Park game, or a Hyde Park game. Or, alternately, a UCBerkeley game, or a Carnegie-Mellon game, or a UW-Madison game. Colleges and Universities also have an interest in connecting people to the physical place and to each other, raising their profile and attempting different paths of communication.

I have wondered for some years why the institution that employs me hasn’t gamified the campus tour—has anybody else done that? Do other institutions at least have an app to go along with the campus tour, with video and audio and detailed information you can click through to? Because ours does not, and that seems like the sort of thing you could assign a 200-level class to code. Or, you know, maybe it isn’t, because I don’t actually know anything about coding or game design. But even if it’s hard and expensive, shouldn’t they be doing it anyway? Or shouldn’t someone be doing it anyway?

Of course, maybe someone is and I haven’t heard about it, because do not hear about those sorts of things. And maybe somebody is doing my great game-of-the-Park already, or an even better version of it, and I haven’t heard about it, because ditto. Or maybe there are very good reasons why it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done, and I don’t know enough to know them. It does seem to me, though, as if ten years ago the future was advergaming, and that pretty much meant that there were Coke logos on some minigolf layouts for a year and then nothing, right? But that future meant the sort of thing I’m thinking about for my city park system, and I kinda want that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I feel like I should have more to say about this as an avid user of two augmented reality games. Your park probably already has a couple portals or pokestops. These games don't (yet) connect to the real world much (although it sometimes can -- fr'ex we had an ingress event in a library and people were asked to bring book donations, and Niantic is selling locations in the game to bring people to Starbucks or Circle K. In fact, the programmatic engine for these games originated in an app to help people find cool stuff to do in the real world. I don't know to what extent the underlying programming of these apps might become available for municipal or Friends-Of groups to adapt for things like this. Even simpler geolocated games could be developed with off-the-shelf bits and pieces I suspect.

Of course, any game with a large enough user base will start to attract trolls and griefers, Dealing with this stuff can be really hard and might limit ones desire to do so. Especially if the user base is expected to have a lot of children and non-tech-savvy people.

I assume there are campus tour aps at least at some colleges, and I've heard of them for museums too. They're not really games per-se though, the user can customize their own experiences but not interact with the map or other users. Or perhaps I am wrong, I would love to find out.

The library thing is cool! I know that there's a pokegym in our library building, although it didn't seem to affect anything at all after the first month. The geolocator stuff is a cool possibility for a town/park/university game, but there are lots of other potential kinds of games that might connect people to each other and the place.

I have been assuming that there are apps to go along with the campus tours, but I have been assuming that for at least four years and I haven't actually heard about any. There probably are some, but I can't help thinking that if they were successful, I would have heard about it.


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