Articles have been popping up recently about several new augmented reality (AR) apps available for the iPhone. For those unfamiliar with the term, or who haven’t read the articles, augmented reality is the idea of superimposing computer-generated information onto views of the real world. It’s kind of like having a HUD for your life. Terminator, anyone?
With the iPhone’s camera, GPS system, and compass, it’s possible to point your phone at something and have an app send back useful information about what you see. The app could even superimpose that information on your view, thus providing a connection between your own visual field and the all-knowing Internet. “Augmented reality browser” is probably the best term for this type of app, at least according to a recent New York Times article.
Augmented reality and gaming
But what about gaming? How can we use this technology to create new types of entertainment or enhance what’s already available? Some ideas:
- Mini-AR — One type of AR game that has already emerged involves placing traditional video game fare within a real (often miniature) environment. Check out, for example, this siege game that can be played on a desktop:
(There are more videos like this at Games Alfresco, a site dedicated to AR gaming.)
- Another possibility is travel-based role playing. Imagine a game that imposes a fictional story on the real world. Like a murder mystery set in your home town. You assume the role of a detective following up on leads and searching for clues. You have to drive around town for real to solve the case, but the victim, characters, and evidence are all super-imposed on real locations. A multi-player version could have you team up with friends, each person playing a different role, to solve the crime.The scope of such games is potentially global. Sure, travel costs could be prohibitive, but what a fun thing to do on vacation. This is table-top role playing taken to the next level (ok, the next level after LARPing).
- With some sort of AR headgear, games like laser tag or paintball could be dramatically enhanced. When setting up a game, you and your friends could pick a scenario (WWII, urban warfare, alien invasion, whatever) and stage your match in much more thrilling fashion.
- Multiplayer matchmaking — If you’re involved in some sort of live-action augmented reality game, AR technologies could help you find other players. I could set my phone to broadcast my location and game preferences for other players to see in their AR view. So I could be standing in a train station, scan my phone across the crowd, and spot people interested in a game.(This same idea could apply to social networking, by the way. People at a party could broadcast their Facebook status so others could see it literally floating above their heads. Not saying it’s a good idea…)
AR and you
Certainly augmented reality technology is in its infancy, but its potential is profound. Obviously there are risks as well, to security and privacy most of all. But I suspect AR is going to be HUGE, and even the most mundane details of our lives will be affected (driving, grocery shopping, traveling, conversation). It will happen gradually (though maybe not slowly), and games will have a key role in setting the direction this technology takes.
It’s cool and scary at the same time, right?