The Home Invasion

The Home Invasion
Game Design in the Transfigured World

Allen Varney | 29 Nov 2005 07:00
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The Argument

  • In the imminent world of fast-constant-ubiquitous net, new reputation economies will pervasively reshape culture as dramatically as the invention of money. Entirely novel kinds of human interaction will spawn new social classes, power structures and lifestyles. Reputation economies will be abstractions of relationships, in the same way that money abstracts material wealth and labor.
  • In this context, reputation economies will benefit from simulations originally developed for electronic and tabletop roleplaying games.
  • Who can engineer this new social institution? The people with the most appropriate skill set: game designers.

Always On
Node, a company in the Welsh town of Usk, makes the Node Explorer:

This is a robust location aware media player - a small hand held computer with stereo headphones, which downloads relevant information from a server, guiding the user via GPS (Global Positioning System) as they walk around their environment. The Explorer's integrated location sensors and hidden wireless technology are able to pinpoint the exact location of its user, triggering high quality images and broadcast quality sound and video, in the form most suitable, such as language, age group, and particular interest or special needs.

Museums and sports consortia are buying Node Explorers right now. Can anyone doubt that in a few years we'll have gadgets like this in cell phones? First, we'll use them as automated tour guides, or color commentary on big events. But eventually, someone will stop pointing his phone at the Sistine Chapel ceiling or the World Cup final, and start pointing it at you. What will he get? Your home page or Livejournal profile? Maybe at first, but what about another ten years on, or twenty? What about your great-grandkids, a hundred years on?

Once we get true ubiquitous computing, when we're perpetually (un)wired, we'll gradually develop instant access to every public fact about everybody. Online World will meet Meat World. A stranger on the street will ask you to loan him $20, and you'll actually seriously consider his request. Why? Because you can see his name and address. More importantly, you can ping his whole social network and see how many of those who trust him are people you trust, or are trusted by people who are trusted by people you trust...

We'll all be living the Kevin Bacon Game, instantly sussing all six degrees of separation from anyone we meet. Your standing with your immediate group of friends will remain important, but that social connection will extend powerfully to their friends, and their friends of friends. Among people who know you, you'll still have a reputation; but in the larger world, you'll have a simulated reputation.

What is a "simulated reputation"? It's how people judge you if they've never heard of you. It's your clan rank, forum karma, eBay feedback rating. It's the size of your MySpace personal network and the strength of your World of Warcraft guild, but interoperating with and transferable to every other network. Simulated reputation generalizes from recognized institutions like military rank, knighthoods, titles and Who's Who listings - some particular organization's badge of approval. What if no organization handed out the badges? What if you made your own badges? Glory, brownie points, hacker leetness, street cred - Cory Doctorow's 2003 science fiction novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, calls it "Whuffie," a term he used in high school.

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