I’ve dug out a document from mid-2000 about a massively multiplayer game concept called ‘GridMania’ that I had invented at the time. It never really got implemented, and then my group and I got off in different directions, e.g. BuddySpace, Yanna Vogiazou’s PhD thesis, etc. But it’s just been sitting there for three years on a hidden web site, so I thought I ought at least to bring the wording out of the closet and onto my blog. Here it is verbatim, from my original:
GridMania is the generic name for a family of massively multiplayer cooperative online games, group experiences, and shared reality. The simplest variant of GridMania is derived from the sports-stadium phenomenon known as the ‘Mexican Wave’: every individual controls a remarkably simple behaviour (stand up, wave arms, sit down) influenced by a simple analysis of the person sitting alongside (stand up just after they stand up), without deep competitive motivation (it’s aesthetically pleasing and fun), but requiring large numbers of participants (it works best in big crowds).
But ‘Mexican Wave’ requires being there in order to work, and thus can never be achieved on the Internet, right? Well, this is precisely the challenge! Indeed, the poor sense of ‘being there’ provided by today’s concert webcasts is one of the inspirations for this work. I believe that we can begin to address the issues by turning three key ingredients on their heads:
* Instead of large numbers of simultaneous participants being seen as a liability, let’s look at them as an asset, indeed a prerequisite for the whole activity.
* Instead of looking at an audience as the passive recipient of artistic ‘content’, let’s look at their potential as the active creator of artisitc ‘content’.
* Instead of being defeated by the impossibility of fine-grained (microsecond-accurate) synchronization required for true shared experience, let’s concentrate on a ‘sleight-of-hand’ workaround that delivers the same capability 99% of the time rather than 100%.
Ingredient one is inspired by the work on cellular automata and artificial life, which demonstrates in a profound manner how simply-behaving individuals can lead to complex-behaving groups. Ingredient two is an attempt to put back the live crowd-behaviour aspect of concert-going and stadium-going experiences, all of which benefit immensely from people doing something.
Item three is a unique challenge of working at a distance over an impoverished medium (impoverished in comparison with real life that is, even with modern broadband capability). Fine-grained (millisecond) ‘true synchronization’ is not attainable on the Internet, but ‘cyclical rhythm-based’ synchronization is attainable.Crudely, if you and I are clapping on every second beat out of four per ‘measure’, then for all but the first and last few measures of a song, it will never matter that we are technically listening to different ‘measures’. That is sufficient ‘sleight-of-hand’ to create an illusion of fine-grained synchronization to an absolute precise degree.
The goal is to develop a family of web-centric activities, available across the entire spectrum of devices (incuding next generation phones, networked game consoles, and web browsers), which offer the following characteristics:
– The crowd-participation-essence of Mexican Wave
– The graphical simplicity of Tetris
– The emotional potential of a rock concert
– The ‘hook’ engagement of Tamagotchi
– The mathematical beauty and pecision of cellular automata
– The dyanamic combination of music and art worthy of MTV
[If you have the remotest interest in this, email me, and I’ll give you the hidden URL]