Hybrid Urban Games And #Tahrir Square

These are very exciting times for hybrid (or augmented) urban games. With Betaville, Chromaroma and TERA, the digital game-space is not only emerging strongly as a character in itself but also transforming the real-world experiences. One does not enter the game-world to ‘escape the real’ any more, but to acknowledge the hybrid and return to the augmented real-world.

Developing around similar ideas of Shadow Cities but bringing app-based locative gaming into everyday actions, Chromaroma is a game built around visualisation of daily commutes. As you travel across London you can login to the multiplayer platform by using either Oyster Card or Bike Key. You can see your journey visualised in real-time but also those of fellow ‘players’. If interested in urban domination, you can form team and play against others over control of stations and locales. It also brings in a psychogeographic angle (like Urban Drifting) with stories and suggestions popping up about places you can visit and fantastic items you can search for to bring in additional points, or for the fun of exploration itself.

Taking a big step towards urban versioning systems, the game-space of Betaville moves from urban exploration to urban change (version beta). With Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn already available as 3D environments, Betaville provides a fully detailed open-source virtual mirror of the real city. The expansive multiplayer platform asks users to bring in their art and urbanism projects, to engage in participatory urban change in beta version — a virtual canvas for real urbanist projects. The platform also has built-in discussion forums and other social media tools to spread the noise. Cannot wait for people to start doing 3D projection of Betaville re-imagination upon real city places!

The game-environment of TERA, however, is not for drifting or re-imagining at all. The ‘Argons’, super-villains of the game, attack and defeat the players not by just roaming over the territory and controlling it but by destroying the very territory of the game-space. As Dave Noonan, Lead Writer of TERA, reveals the locations in the game function as visual and experiential narrators along side the NPCs. Further the form and experience of these locations change and become dangerous as the teraforming antagonists occupy them. Beyond hybrid urban games, other genres of games and story-telling have often involved cities and spaces as active narrative agents. Either in open-ended quests of Minecraft or the new-comer Love where the game-environment itself become the raw material for story-creating, or in Batman story arcs (such as “The Destroyer” and “City of Light” arcs and recently in Batman #679) that explore the role of the space of Gotham City in creation of the caped crusader and the possibility of defeating him by transforming the city space.

These conceptions of city-space as procedurally generated by human action, and of enemy as a space-eater, a denier of access to certain spaces — real and virtual — and the only way to fight it is by occupying and claiming space, reminds me much of the ongoing events in #Tahrir Square.

#Tahrir Square sits firmly at the intersections of inequality, revolution, architecture of power and urban gaming (and of course uncountable other idea and action flows). A historical site of protests of revolts, almost determined by the built configuration of crucial building along the edge of the square, openness of which simultaneously makes the protesters vulnerable to indiscriminate violence. The space is proceduarally generated through human action, from under-domination of the police of the space-eater giant, to the very symbol of ‘liberation’ and gathering ground of a million to killing ground without shelter to the front-line-of-battle moving to 6th Oct Bridge as @sharifkouddous tweets just now. Is Hosni Mubarak a creation of that city-space with #Tahrir Square as the center? Can he be only defeated by moving the front line of battle to 6th Oct Bridge of elsewhere? But #Tahrir Square is also a procedurally generated virtual (voyeuristic? supportive? emotional?) gathering space every time somebody searches for the hashtag. And there are battles for hashtag spaces as @Jan25voices and other prominent occupiers of that space come under hashtagged criticism. Why are people on streets in Cairo are tweeting and claiming hashtag spaces? Only because most of them are journalists/bloggers and they require the global audience for their living? How does tweeting from the streets change their experiences and future experiences of those streets?

Photo courtesy: @ArabRevolution

Much of how we talk about ‘spaces’ and ‘cities’ emerged from similar days in France and elsewhere of late 1960s. How is #Tahrir Square going to change how we talk about contemporary world cities, and live and play in them?