What happened?

Gaming first gained mass popularity through home video game consoles that were connected to a television screen with physical players battling against virtual computer characters, such as in Super Mario World. Multiplayer gaming then changed this solitary model into a multiplayer one, with multiple controllers connected to the same console and players sitting next to each to race with Mario’s karts or fight in Tekken. This social gaming practice was in turn disrupted by online gaming, where gamers battle or cooperate with each other in their favorite virtual environments while being physically apart, such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty.

What does this mean?

Social gaming is now making a comeback with gameplay that is related to the user’s physical location and real-time activities. For example, Alipay has launched an interactive mobile game, in which users can collect “energy points” and compete with friends to grow a virtual tree as a reward for engaging in activities with a low carbon footprint, such as using public transportation or walking to work. Likewise, Snapchat has launched ‘Snappables’ on its AR Lenses: multiplayer games that use touch, motion and facial expressions to compete for high scores or in literal head-to-head match-ups. And Microsoft’s Project Zanzibar is a sensing platform that can locate and communicate with objects through a flexible mat that senses a user’s touch and hover gestures, and lets kids play with toys, cards and blocks as their actions come alive on-screen. Of course, Pokémon Go has already shown the potential of adding a virtual element to real world interactions, something that World of Warcraft now tries to mimic by blurring the line between our real-life and fantasy worlds.

What’s next?

These new experiences of physical spaces are enabled by improvements in Augmented Reality (AR) technology and the rise of the sensor-based economy. This heralds a comeback of social gaming practices, as users are able to adopt a “social gaming interface” layer that transposes over the real, physical reality. Depending on the interface they choose, they can add gamification elements to the activities they do. For example, working environments can gain “gamification” elements such as surroundings in platform games (e.g. Super Mario World), city tours can become somewhat like a journey in adventure games (e.g. GTA, Zelda), while learning environments can gain reward systems as in online RPGs (e.g. World of Warcraft), that can be engaged in and shared with others.