British dev wants to make a game you can ignore

Lecturer working on nontraditional project that takes real-life actions and translates them into RPG actions.


NEWPORT, Wales--Immersive games that eat up all your free time might become a thing of the past, and games that are "easy to ignore" might be the next big thing. Mark Eyles, speaking at this week's Women in Games 2007 event, which he founded in 2004, introduced just such a project.

Eyles, a lecturer in computer games at the University of Portsmouth in the UK and former industry veteran, has developed a game titled Ambient Quest, which will soon be available to play for free online.

In Ambient Quest, players wear a pedometer attached to their belt or pocket, which counts the number of steps that they take. For every 300 steps, players get one move in the PC role-playing game. Each move opens up more squares on the map, as well as opportunities to find food, treasure, or fight monsters to gain experience. Eyles commented, "Players' real actions in the real world affect an avatar in a virtual world. You can either change your actions in the real world to help your avatar. Or not."

Eyles said that he got the idea for the project--which is part of his PhD research--while he was listening to Brian Eno's album Music for Airports. He said, "I was thinking, if that album was a role-playing game, what would it play like? And on the cover it says 'as ignorable as it is interesting.'"

These kinds of pervasive games could be used in a number of ways, Eyles believes. "Imagine a job which involves fairly repetitive actions--for example shelf stacking--that is not so interesting in itself, but [by 'keeping score' of such actions] the game actually makes it interesting," he said.

The idea of a player's real-world actions or environment affecting the game is not entirely new. Other games that have attempted to integrate real-life actions into their gameplay include Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand, where a specially designed Game Boy Advance cartridge measured the amount of sunshine in your real-life environment to gauge how much power the vampire-slaying hero would had in the game.

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