Real Virtuality: The future of serious games
By: Jeroen van Mastrigt-Ide
Although people wait there every day, buses never stop at the stop ‘Benrath Senior Centre’ in Düsseldorf (Germany). The fake bus stop, an exact replica of a real German bus stop, was installed by the staff of the home for the elderly. The idea emerged when the police kept bringing back patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, after they took buses to return to their homes or families that no longer existed.
This fake bus stop example illustrates to me a significant paradigm shift in thinking regarding the application of game technology to improve the way we communicate, teach, train, care or work. The old paradigm is best described as the ‘Star Trek Holodeck’ paradigm: players enter a ‘virtual reality’ in which they can experiment with (for example) floods, riots, dying patients or the operation of complex machines. Through experimentation in this virtual world, players develop skills and competencies that are useful in their job or life.
The new paradigm is profoundly different and can be described as the ‘gamification of reality’. Through the introduction of game design elements such as rules or currencies, in the real world, reality itself is transformed and people start to behave differently.
This new paradigm is fueled by the proliferation of smart devices, enchanted objects and the rise of the ‘Internet of things’ through which we connect the real world of atoms to a virtual world of symbols — I call this the emergence of ‘real virtuality’. The recent introduction of Google Glass symbolizes this development, that will change the way people experience physical locations, such as offices, shops, museums, schools, hospitals, transport and cities. Increasingly, people will interact with these physical locations, and the processes that take place within them, while being supported by their smart devices (smartphones, smartglasses, smartcontactlensens and personal satellite drones). The smart cities, smart organizations and smart buildings of the near future will cater for these interactions by embedding technology in their physical environment and developing services that enable people to meaningfully enhance their experience of the real.
At the moment the Real Virtuality paradigm is already being adopted, often from the perspective of safety, logistics, efficiency and persuasion. In the past years, the concept of ‘Gamification’ for instance, has gained a lot of attention, mainly as a project that connects game design elements such as points, leaderboards and badges to real services, in order to persuade or nudge people to start, stop, quit, change, move, save or spend. Too often, in my opinion, this kind of ‘Gamification’ is started from the perspective of the goals of organization instead of from the perspective of the creation of meaningful experiences for people that interact with these organizations.
This brings me back to the bus stop of Benrath Senior Centre in Dusseldorf. Central in this concept is the reduction of stress and pain. Not by creating fences, but by evoking a memory, providing a place to communicate and to interact. By designing a meaningful experience. In the future, game designers will help to design social innovation, not only by designing objects such as games, but mainly by creating meaningful processes and experiences through applying game design principles and game design thinking in reality.