This is the third article in an ongoing series of works about a project I’m calling Code Name: B-Space. You can read “ground zero” of the piece here for some background, and installment 1 can be found here.

In this segment, we’ll be fleshing out the third of the three points outlined in the last article. Namely, doing some research into the current state of affairs to see what, if any, pieces of the technloogic puzzle have already been solved for.

There’s no point that I can see in having to reinvent the wheel, so where we can find existing technologies that do some part of what we need to do ourselves, why not co-opt or reverse engineer those? (if someone can provide me with a compelling argument why this is the wrong approach, I’m certainly not above having my mind changed, but until that happens, this is the approach I intend to use).

That said, I find it nearly impossible to talk about what the current state of affairs is without going into some detaila bout how our game would be put together. What features would it have, and what would that “look like” in terms OF a game.

To that end, we’ll break this third segment into two distinct pieces…the design document, and the research on the current state of things.

Thus, this post will be a living thing. It will evolve and change over time, both as the game’s design becomes ever more complete and evolved, and as the research becomes more fleshed out and complete.

For now, I’m just going to hit the high spots, with plans to come back later and revisit all of this many times as we move along.

B-Space Public Design Doc

Purpose & Scope
The purpose of this document is to define the game code named “B-Space.” The purpose of the game itself will be nothing less than to be an integral part of the solution set for any number of large, seemingly intractable globe spanning problems. Why a game? That is to say, why should we strive to make the game an integral part of the solution set?

This woman sums it up best in her second TED talk, when she says that people approach gaming with more passion than life. The game itself unleashes greater creativity, and makes people more likely to ask for help. All good reasons if you ask me.

Archetectural Must-Haves
Ideally, the game will have the following major components/characteristics:
* It will be played out in 3d, and exist both on the internet and as an “overlay” to reality itself. The idea being that anyone with a computer, iPhone, or tablet PC would be able to “play” the game to an extent, but in order to get the fullest benefit OF the game, you’d want to equip yourself with HUD glasses, because many of the game’s features will overlay reality, enabling the “players” (henceforth to be used without the quotes) to interact with the world in a variety of new ways. Examples of HUD glasses here and here.

Google’sProject Glass” appears to be/do most of what we’d want and need.

* The game will borrow heavily from RPG/MMORPG games in overall structure. We can develop classes, levels, powers, buffs, and related player enhancements, such that advancing through the game’s ranks will unlock an increasing suite of powers (rewards and incentives for playing).

See World of Warcraft and Everquest for but two of literally thousands of examples.

* “Experience” will be awarded for performing the kinds of actions we want to encourage. The game can be played in any manner that the player chooses (obviously) but there ARE certain actions that we’ll want to encourage. This can be done in a variety of ways, by awarding raw experience, badges or honorific titles, special in-game buffs/boosts, special in-game items, and so forth. We could also make certain “special” quests available only to the highest caliber players (with “caliber” being defined however we want, probably having something to do with being adept at problem solving)

* Interactive – Players should be able to communicate freely, form/join alliances, groups, or factions, and further, players should be able to create custom “quests” and adventures of their own. Of course, this ability need not be granted out the gate, but rather, could be earned (as above), and given as a reward for excellence in play.

* The game should also be interactive with social media (twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc), and with various newsfeeds, which will likely drive, or at least strongly influence the shape and direction of the game.

* Universal formats – there will be a lot of data in the game, and we’ll need to be sure that the data is readily accessible, regardless of the specific platform players are using. Thus, we’ll need to stick to universal formats (html, pdf, txt). Our game will also need to be able to scan, mine and sift thru data from a variety of public sources, and display it. If data files are needed, we should look to something like Open Office, Google Docs or these US government cloud based apps.

See also here for an example of how private enterprise is already moving into this space.

* There will be numerous B-space layers by default (maybe a news feed layer, a data mining layer, a search layer, a display layer, and others), but also, players should be able to create, spawn, and share their own custom B-space layers on the fly with other players (this may, or may not be limited by faction/group/alliance affiliation, at the player’s option…a filtering/access/rights system).

* Large quests will need to be broken up into smaller, more granular bits, in order to keep the flow going, and so that players don’t lose interest if pursuing a goal that could take literally years to see through to the end. This is a matter of pacing, storyboarding, and timing, but important to the overall execution of the game in general, and specific long term quests in particular (and going back to article one, all of our starting quests are pretty long term).

Basic Units of Organization

At the root, of course, will be the individual player. Nothing can happen without player input.

I see the game being played out in a strictly modern day setting. In fact, I don’t think any “fictionalizing” needs to be done at all. There are a sufficient number of remarkable stories in our own reality that I doubt we’ll need to go inventing any. Mostly, it’s a matter of focus. If you look around any country on Earth, you can find pockets of strangeness and misery that are in need of fixing (and that look very like what you might see in fictional movies like this, this, or this), so while it might sound sexy to set the game in a vaguely futuristic, not-quite-post-apocalyptic-but-close type of setting, I honestly don’t think it’s needed (truth so often being stranger than fiction). Besides, as the game takes off, we’ll have our own stories, myths, and legends springing up around the community, and these should be all the fodder we need.

There will be a number of social layers a player can join, from Associations (of like-classed folks–think a Journalist’s Society, the BSMA (B-Space Medical Association), etc.), Holons (drawing together people close together, geographically–this, to be the real building block of the “game.”), and Factions, which are groupings of people dedicated to a specific purpose (an archival faction, dedicated to preserving the world’s knowledge…an Holistic Agronomy Faction, dedicated to finding sustainable methods of farming, making them available to all, and sharing expertise, etc). – questions to answer: how will these differ from Associations? (offhand, associations will be narrower in their focus, while Factions may encompass aims and goals that span multiple professional interests).

Going back to “encouraging behaviors we want to see,” a player would be eligible to establish a Holon after building a FabLab, or one of its components, like a 3d printer, for example (either on his/her own, or as part of some other grouping). Once proof of this is established on the server (it’s online, with an IP address we can ping, plus perhaps photo-documented proof as well), that player is eligible to form a Holon in his area, which provides various in-game bonuses, prestige, and unique powers based on class and associations, etc.

(See Internet Zero for how this could be accomplished today, and this for more, related information).

Alternately, the path to establishing a Holon might be via the establishment of so many Kilowats worth of solar panels up and running in a given locality.

Or micro-hydro. Or wind power. Or anything that’s local and sustainable. Even teaching X number of classes might do it. Basically, whatever we deem of value and worth rewarding is fair game, and each can unlock greater powers and abilities in the game.

Note: Additional background on Transition Towns (a possible early model for our Holons) should be perused for backgrond on the topic.

Further reading here, and here, with information on their close cousin, the Open Source Ecology movement also being quite valuable.

Other related information here, and here.

Also Note: regarding FabLabs, 3d printers, and self-replicating machines, this essay on the levels and types of self-replication has applications for game theory, as does this essay on how to write machines.

Establishing a Trust Network

We could use a system similar to Ebay to allow players to rank one another any time there’s a social interaction (one to five stars). A player’s “trust rating” is the amalgamation of all those rated interactions.

This, of course, would also establish the need for an Arbitrator Class (a mod, or Sysop) to settle disputes if a player feels he/she has been unfairly ranked, but again, no need to reinvent the wheel here, Ebay has well establilshed protocols we can adopt.

Proof of Concept Needed
I propose that we do two separate “mini projects” as a proof of concept.

One, a virtual tour of a historic location (say, the Alamo, for example). Wearing your VR glasses (or Google Glass), you should be able to go to the Alamo, and when you arrive, your goggles will “know” (assuming you’re logged in).

Once there, you’ll see the Alamo as it looked during its prime, and maybe see a virtual recreation of the famous battle that was fought there (well, a synopsis of it, at any rate).

The second project will be a “mini-game” test of the basic Holon structure, taking a new player through logging on and character creation, through to establishing a Holon via one path (the building of a Fab-Lab, putting it online, and having it log into the game server as proof–with the resulting reward being that you gain the ability to create and name your Holon).

That’s really all we need to start, but make no mistake…the challenges and hurdles we’ll face even to get see those two modest tests to the finish line will be extreme.

Existing Games that Do Some of What we Want to Do
Raise the Village – I like this game, and think we can learn much from it. It’s in a different format, but is a micro-cosm of what we want to accomplish.

Foldit – Player involvement and collaborative problem solving.

City One – Game from IBM…provides some agonizing real world and near-future choices about city development, often made blind, and often the choices made prove to be only the leading edge of yet more complex choices, so great stuff there, tho the game is played in a vacuum, with no interaction (aside from high score sharing) with other players, and no real world impact from your decisions.

Stop Disasers – Real world scenarios, which is a plus, but this merely teaches you about them. There’s no mechanism to actually fix any of these problems, nor is there much in the way of interaction with other players.

Free Rice – a very simple game, but worth mentioning as it attacks a global problem, and playing the game has real world impacts. Love it!

Wildfire – again, your playing doesn’t actually impact or change anything, but it is a good abstraction.

The National Budget Simulation – a very dry presentation, but useful in that it forces the player to confront tradeoffs and presents a series of genuinely hard choices, albiet, in a vacuum, with no interaction from other players.

iCivics – Not really the kind of game we’re after, but proof that “educational” games don’t have to be dry or boring.

Executive Command – as above, but designed for a slightly older crowd. Very engaging game, but lacking in any real world impact or social interaction. Still, there are some good seeds here.

Macon Money – an intriguing gamelet that increases awareness of this local, alternate currency and helps build a community arond it. Good stuff, and an intriguing element to possibly add to the Holon concept.

Spent – Not really what we’re looking to do, but a very good example of a game that raises social awareness about the plight of the poor. Definitely worth a look…good seeds here!

Sixteen Tons – not a computer game, but you’ll find the rules here. A GREAT example of social interactions in gaming!

Third World Farmer – It wishes it was “Raise the Village” (above), but still an interesting example.

America 2049 – Much closer to what we’re trying to do…very exciting stuff here!

Leaky World – Not really what we’re after, but a must see, for its bearing on the project as a whole.

You Shall Know the Truth – As above…good seeds, but not really what we’re after in the end.

Against All Odds – A masterpiece in terms of raising social awareness of globe spanning problems. We can learn much from this.

Darfur is Dying – As above…

Traces of Hope – Another refugee style game, by the Red Cross…

Garbage Dreams – Unusual, but again, very good at raising social awareness.

The Curfew – Near future alternate history, there’s lots to learn from this one.

The Cost of Life – Kids game, but surprisingly enlightening.

The Riverbed – An unusual entry, but loaded with great seed material.

The Catchment – as above. So many of these games have pieces of what we want, but are played out in a vacuum…

Zooniverse – An invitation to particpate in real science…again, pieces of what we need…love the social participation aspects…

People Power (must be purchased) – will have a more detailed review of this one later…just didn’t want to lose track of it for the time being.

Breakthroughs to Cures – Again, some of what we need, we can find here.

Gambit – Anything that MIT’s involved in, we ought to take a closer look at. Not an exact match, but worth studying.

Play the News – Hugely interesting concept…

Mission US – Again, not exactly on point, but lots of fodder for great ideas.

Oligarchy – As above.

Karma Tycoon – Looks somewhat close to what we’re attempting…haven’t tried this one yet. More later.

Enercities – Anything to do with sustainability is bound to be at least somewhat up our alley, and this is no exception.

Energyville – As is this…

Energy City – And this…

Commons, The Game – This looks VERY close!

Real Lives – Important elements to be found here.

I know that this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and there are, no doubt, countless other examples out there, so my request to anyone reading this is simple:

If you know of another game that might have some elements of what we’re looking for, comment below and let me know, so I can add it to the list. There’s a great deal more research ahead, but clearly, there’s a growing acceptance for this kind of gaming experience.

Not an Alternate Reality Game, but a Real World Game.

We’ll get there.

More later.