HiveMind: No thank you.

I realise I am a bit behind with my reaction to this: The announcement of Will Wright’s new project HiveMind goes back to November. However, when I finally read about it, I was not intrigued, but shocked. HiveMind is nothing less than a discussion about how games should work on a basic level.

Of course, with Wright, this is nothing new. He is (in)famous for making games that revolutionise some genre, or make up a new one alltogether. Now, he takes on the idea what games mean to players, namely, escapism. According to the traditional narratological approach to gaming, roughly speaking, we play because we want to experience a story, and want to be immersed in a virtual world. Now Wright wants to “get you more engaged in reality rather than distract you from it”. Instead of separating game time from reality, he wants to merge the two, as well as go along with the developments in social media gaming.

“What if, for instance, an application could tap into something as personal as your dreams?” Yes, what if? I am a frequent facebook user, and I share information on the internet, so I shouldn’t have a problem with this: “It may sound like a creepy invasion of your privacy for game to know that about you, but Wright wants to emphasize the entertainment value of sharing and why people will probably share that information gladly.” I am not so sure about the “gladly”. I would rather say that social media games possess a pressurizing  mechanic that gradually forces you to give up information. Think only of Zynga’s alluring offers: “Now that you play our game anyway, you might as well allow us to email you, you’ll get 200 points of special cash for it!” If the HiveMind takes any hints from that, would Wright see us trading personal experiences for points? Of course, the degree of privacy invasion will probably still be in the hands of the player, ultimately. But we shouldn’t forget the marketing and gaming techniques behind such ideas.

But apart from a pressure-mechanism, there’s the social aspect. We spend time with our friends anyway, right? We might as well get points from that. “Your friends could help you accomplish some of the things that you want to do in real life.” If you really look at that statement, doesn’t it seem extremely ridiculous? And let’s think of all the facebook friends we’ve blocked because of their incessant gaming notifications? I admit, I played Zynga games at one point, because I was curious. And these games invariably reach the point where you cannot continue to play without pestering your friends to help you. Sure, I might not mind so much helping with everyday things instead of giving you materials for a virtual farm. But do I really want to reach the point where we help each other just because the game suggests it? No, this is not going in the right direction.

What’s most interesting about his idea is that Wright thinks HiveMind could be fun, because it is meaningful to the players. But is that really the right conclusion to draw? Isn’t the very essence of fun and play that we can let go of the constraints that usually surround us? A game that runs on my personal experiences would constantly demand my supervision. I’d have to monitor exactly what information about me gets out there, and how it affects the game. This then turns the game into a high-maintenance, attention-seeking automaton, and the balance from play to work is tipped.

I am sorry, Will, but I like my games the escapism way. I want to shoot random strangers in the knee and loot their homes. I want to create perfect Sims and then ruin their lives. And as much as I love MMOs and their possibilities, I do prefer them to be a little less than realistic at all times. Just to know where I am, unambiguously. Let’s hope this project goes the way of Spore or Black & White: much ado about nothing.

All quotes from the VentureBeat article

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