Should virtual world video games offer a parallel game experience in the real world?

This is something we’ve discussed adding to our Remembering 7th Street video game project, possibly using GPS devices, such as GPS-enabled cellphones.

Our game currently exists entirely inside a virtual world – a re-creation of the jazz and blues club scene on Oakland’s 7th Street in the 1940s and 1950s. Game play is confined to that virtual world, with the player exploring the jazz and blues clubs and engaging in game-play quests to learn about the history of 7th Street and its music.

Adding a GPS-component would allow people to play a version of the game in the real world or even move back and forth between the virtual and the real as part of game play. Some of the GPS-related ideas we’ve kicked around include:

- Sending text messages to players with GPS-enabled cellphones as they pass by the sites of old jazz or blues clubs on 7th Street that appear in the video game. The messages could lead people to other locations on the street as part of a game, or they could direct the player to a web site that has more information on the locations and serves as a gateway to the video game world.

- Including riddles in the video game that require real-world exploration of 7th Street to find the answers. A system similar to the Geocaching game could be used, in which players go on treasure hunts using a GPS device to help find the location of hidden objects. We could direct players to GPS coordinates on 7th Street to uncover hidden clues needed to solve puzzles in the video game.

We’ve also discussed just using mash-ups of mapping software like Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps or Google Earth to create a virtual tour of 7th Street, with markers for the jazz and blues clubs and other establishments that once existed there.

Something similar to this was done by two other Knight challenge grant recipients, Leslie Rule and Paul Lamb, who did a Mississippi Blues Trail Tour in Google Earth.

At a Knight Foundation sponsored seminar on games at MIT last month, Eric Klopfer of MIT’s Teacher Education Program discussed augmented reality games that use GPS-enabled devices to provide information about real world locations and how those might be integrated with virtual world video games.

Hewlett-Packard is experimenting with something like this with its Mediascapes initiative.

Advances in GPS devices and cellphones are opening all kinds of opportunities for delivering location-based information. Couple that with the sophisticated virtual environments being created in many video games, and you can create a game experience that moves seamlessly from the virtual to the real, providing an even more compelling and enriching experience for the player.