Jane McGonigal isn't the only developer working on creating video games with real-world components and positive real-world effects. From fitness to chores, people are beginning to use video gaming for encouragement and rewards for performing real-life tasks. I think this is a great idea — combining the fantasy world that so many people enjoy "escaping" to with the duties that must be completed on a daily basis. Most of the games in this new "trans-reality" genre feature friendly competition between families and friends, and some even offer in-game reward systems. Best of all, most are free.
Walk n' Play by the Computational Physiology Lab at the University of Houston is a free iPhone application that tracks walking and calories burned. Simply run the app while wearing the iPhone, in a pocket, in a belt holster, or however else you like to wear it. The app not only tracks your movement, but also that of registered friends. You can even see when friends aren't being active at all. Walk n' Play uses cartoon avatars and encourages people to get moving. The player with the most calories burned wins a more trim waistline!
Android users are not to be left out. Zombies, Run is an app for the Android phone that turns the daily jog into a run for your life. Turn on the GPS, go outside, run the app, and it tells you where the zombies are hiding. Avoid them during your run to live. Come upon a red dot (aka a zombie) on the app, and you lose. This is a great trans-reality game that can turn a ho-hum running course into something new every day. Instead of following the regular routine, use Zombies, Run to expand your exercise area and turn a dull run into a fun run.
Also available for the Android are JOYity and YouCatch, both by Zelfi. In JOYity, players travel around real-world cities and search for clues that the game gives at certain physical locations. In effect, it is a treasure hunt game. YouCatch uses the JOYity platform, but players actually play against real world other people. In YouCatch, each player is being hunted, all the while trying to hunt other players. These games make me want an Android, or at least wish they were available for iPhone.
Chore Wars online gets rid of chore charts that clutter up walls and encourages families and roommates to play house in a competitive way that actually has players working in collaboration to take care of things. Simply set up a free account (paid accounts are available for more functionality) and invite roommates or family members to join in. Each dungeon master sets up available chores and points rewards. The game features both gold rewards and equipment rewards. This is a great way to get slackers off the couch and doing the dishes.
Overall, I'm very excited about trans-reality games. As of late, I spend too much time at my desk to want to play PC video games in my time off. Some of these trans-reality games (YouCatch in particular) make me want to go outside and run around while having a very good time. While Walk n' Play and Chore Wars are particularly useful, the idea of meeting like-minded people in a park whilst playing a game sounds like the kind of fun we used to have in college. Though the terms of engagement are different now, I'd be happy to spend a spring afternoon outdoors in a trans-reality game.
Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conducting science experiments at home. Nicole has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Transylvania University, and has experience in copywriting for education, print, business, and the web. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter via @HuTerra.