Image: Will Wright
Stupid Fun Club
"Games are one of the few places where you can instrument pretty thoroughly the behavior of a person, whereas you can't in the real world," says Will Wright. "But the toughest nut to crack is how we get the user on our side. How do we get them to open up about their life?"
updated 12/22/2011 12:20:13 PM ET 2011-12-22T17:20:13

The rest of life can seem dull after the fun of playing video games in which you're a galactic war hero or simply tending a virtual farm with Facebook friends. That could change, however, with an upcoming game aimed at changing the daily grind into a more joyful, possibly life-altering experience.

"HiveMind" comes from Will Wright, the famed game designer who created "SimCity" and the even more popular series "The Sims." He envisions a game that learns all about a person's friends and actions from social networks and location-tracking mobile devices. That awareness of the person's interests and desires could then help weave a gaming experience out of the real threads of a person's life.

"We want to utilize that situational awareness to build entertainment experiences to get them more engaged in reality, rather than distract them from it," Wright said. "We want to make games out of reality rather than making games about space marines or fantasy."

Such a move is logical for the man who introduced game players to the joys of city-building simulations and allowed them to toy with the virtual lives of entire family generations. The difference between those games and "HiveMind" is that the latter could bridge the gap between virtual game worlds and real life.

Games, games everywhere
Games already have taken much of the world by storm, spread from video game consoles and computer gaming rigs to tablets, smartphones and online social networks. At $56 billion, the worldwide market for games is already more than twice the size of the music industry, and the U.S. game industry makes twice as much as Hollywood's box office sales.

"Games are becoming pretty ubiquitous in our culture," Wright told InnovationNewsDaily. "We used to have to sit with the Xbox in the living room, and now have the same technology in our pocket all the time."

But the power of gaming goes beyond its diverse offerings. Every action taken by a player in a game can be recorded as digital information (not unlike how, in the film " The Matrix,"  Neo sees the virtual world as computer code). That allows game designers to monitor and understand behavior in a way never seen before in human history.

Wright wants "HiveMind" to know and learn about the player in the same way. He even compares the process to how players know about the wants and interests of the virtual characters in the Sims games.

"Games are one of the few places where you can instrument pretty thoroughly the behavior of a person, whereas you can't in the real world," Wright explained. "But the toughest nut to crack is how we get the user on our side. How do we get them to open up about their life?"

Learning to love the 'HiveMind'
"HiveMind" players may end up choosing from a whole suite of gaming apps to customize their real-life gaming experience. Such games or gaming apps would then share what they learned about the player so that "HiveMind" can build up a more complete picture of the person's likes, dislikes and desires.

Collecting such data will require complete openness that lets the players know what is being monitored, Wright said. But he sees ways for the data collection to be part of the entertainment experience, or to make it social by involving friends or family.

"All the technology is there, so it really comes down to psychology and design," Wright said.

Whenever it takes shape, "HiveMind" could become playable across many gaming platforms — video game consoles, tablets, smartphones.

Merging games with reality
A personalized gaming experience reflecting the interests of players could immerse them in a more exciting real life.

"The game is about overlaying a fictional narrative on top of daily life," Wright explained. "Instead of just going to a meeting, you build a story out of the events leading up to it. The story is generated by what you did that day."

Putting the power of games into action reflects Wright's interests in psychology and sociology and his experiments with the Stupid Fun Club, the gaming think tank he cofounded. It also reflects his belief in games, play and stories as "educational technologies" that have helped humans learn throughout their evolutionary history.

In that spirit, "HiveMind" may act as a gentle guide that can even point players toward new fun activities in real life: say, a local club for hiking enthusiasts, an upcoming meeting of Jane Austen fans, or perhaps even a nearby video game tournament for "Starcraft 2" players.

"We want to make life a lot more interesting," Wright said. "We might be exposing opportunities in reality that you weren't aware of, and create a deeper situational awareness of things that you might enjoy."

You can follow InnovationNewsDaily Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu on Twitter @ ScienceHsu. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @ News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

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