When Reality Blurs - BPost 051004

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Ever wanted to be a roadie, a film star, a CEO? Now you can be. With 20Lives the Nokia Game, whose loss I lamented here a year ago, is back.

The premise is simple. Every day you play one of 20 different lives. Living out a day in the life of one of the characters. The nicest touch is that all of the game is in a first person perspective, you see people and places only through your character's eyes – and there are a lot of people talking right in your face. Each of the lives is interlinked, inhabiting the same city. You'll play one character one day, only to find yourself encountering that same character the next day whilst you're in somebody else's skin. Useful information comes fast and without warning, and you soon learn to keep a pen and paper handy.

The game's most telling moment so far came when asked to find a picture of up and coming actress Sarah Nichols, the only clue being to “search the net”. Clicking on the inviting icon on a picture of a PC screen launches your own browser onto Google. Real Google. Real world. A search for the name (spelling only vaguely remembered) yields pages of images of apparently real word Sarah Nichols. Are any of them the 20Lives one? Searching for Nichols and 20Lives get closer – a private blog covering the game, complete with a picture of the game Sarah, and a link to the spoof site created by Nokia for her. The Nokia agency site hadn't made it onto the Google search results, but the blog had. The game was in the hands of the Internet and Google's search algorithms.

Yet again it is the engagement and blurred sense of reality that is the 20Lives hook. Forget reality TV, as unreal a phenomenon as ever there was. Interactive games like this, played half in the real world and half out of it, provide a far richer experience.

At present entertainment is just too compartmentalised. Passive TV, on-line virtual worlds, even “interactive” TV all stick to their own worlds. But what if those boundaries were more porous? What if on-line actions affected TV programming? What if you could explore the island of Lost at the same time as the TV cast? What if your presence could show through into the show? As part of their 50th anniversary ITV has been going back to the old approach of live filming for The Bill. Just imagine if you could put a call into Sun Hill police station and have the characters respond to it.

At the heart of this is the issue of whether people want to just switch on the box and switch off their minds, or whether they want to engage. Today's younger generation is being brought up on interactivity. Where most reality shows, such as Big Brother, go wrong is in catering for the desire to be a star, the centre of attention, the fantasy, rather than offering mass participation. Why bother creating a house of video cameras, when so many houses have webcams? Wouldn't that be more “real”?

In last year's column on the Nokia Game I also called for new challenges to allow creative programmers a chance to show their flair. This year sees the first West Midlands ICT Awards. So if you work for an IT company and think you've been doing innovative work, or just consistently delivering good projects to satisfied customers, head over to www.wmictcluster.org/to enter your business for the awards. But hurry, the closing date is 1 Oct 05.

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This page contains a single entry by David published on October 21, 2005 5:37 PM.

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