New Ways to Play: Wearable Tech, Virtual Reality, Geocaching, and Chromecast
With a lack of technological leaps in the past few years, it appears that the gaming industry is finally on the cusp of something new. While traditional gaming has been defined by consoles and button-mashing, the future of gaming is more physically involved, and not always console/computer dependent.
To some, the idea of wearable technology immediately brings to mind Smartwatches and Google Glass. While the Pebble, Apple Watch, and Google Glass might have fun applications for the gaming world (EA is already developing for the Apple Watch), we'd like to think even further outside the box.
First, it's important to look outside the adult demographic. People make the most boring and practical devices for grown-ups. Case in point: smartwatches. Sure, they're cool, and they function as pedometers (among other things). But none of that sounds fun. For fun that an adult can also take part in, it's time to focus on the teenage market.
With a vast amount of free-time and the limitless backing of their parents' paychecks, the adolescent market is huge. One of the new players in this market is Mighty Cast, a wearable tech company that produces a tech-infused charm bracelet called the Nex Band.
In addition to the features mentioned below, the bracelets flicker when another Nex Band user is nearby, they can send and receive coded messages (ah the art of hiding stuff from teachers). By adding different charms or "mods", kids can completely change the functionality of their bracelet. Cool, no?
Since MightyCast has broadened their mission to support third-party developers, we're bound to see some incredible new uses for this machine pop up, one that may well make it as practical for adults as it is fun for adolescents.
The Nex Band is only the first wave in this new field of wearable tech, which is saturated by IndieGoGo projects like Chemion and Smarty Ring, the Kickstarter-funded Memi, and the wearable tail, Tailly. Yes, I did include a wearable smart-tail for humans on this list. Wearable technology is hot right now, and we're just waiting to see what types of gaming will come out of it.
Everyone knows about the Oculus Rift, but any list of "new ways to play" would be incomplete without mentioning the new virtual reality devices currently in development for the gaming community.
The Oculus Rift was an insanely sucessful Kickstarter project that garnered almost $2.5 million by the end of its campaign in 2012. Two years later and we're finally seeing people use the prototypes, and it still looks as amazing as ever.
I personally got to use an Oculus Rift at a party last year, and it felt like a whole new world of possibilities had opened in front of me. The complete immersion the system allows for full engagement into whatever you're playing. (I can tell you right now that I will never play a horror game on an Oculus Rift.)
Of course the Oculus has competition. According to VentureBeat, Sony's Project Morpheus is 85% of the way complete. I don't really care which of these is first to the market, just as long as I can get a VR headset in the near future.
Virtual reality is neat and all, but the Virtuix Omni takes immersion to the next level. A VR headset will only immerse you visually in a game. By adding an enhanced VR treadmill to the mix, the Omni will give you physical immersion.
Consider how much walking there is in large games like the Fallout series or Skyrim. The Omni gives you the opportunity to do the physical walking for yourself in addition to crouching, jumping, and quick turns. It's a whole new level for your virtual reality gaming experience, and you might also accidentally exercise while using it.
Geocaching, the game of using a GPS to find hidden treasure caches, is perhaps the most obscure mention on this list, but it's a growing area of play. When smartphones added GPS capability, there was a surge of interest in this obscure hobby, which games have only improved upon in the past few years.
The first big game combining the idea of geocaching with smartphones was Ingress. Developed by Niantic Labs, the game asks users to establish "portals" at various geographic sites in order to progress the game's movement.
The game rewards players for virtually interacting with the physical world around them as the game's science-fiction narrative demands it. Like the Virtuix Omni, this seems to operate on the principle that physical engagement adds a new layer to gameplay, which is supported by a plethora of new Geocaching-esque games that have recently arisen.
Google's 2014 April Fool's Prank mimicked this type of gameplay without asking users to physically leave their homes. Google placed over 150 Pokemon on the Google Map App for players to find. However, the trailer spoke to a more Ingress-like experience that the game didn't deliver.
As much fun as I had playing Google's Pokemon Map Challenge, and I was fairly obsessed, I would have planned all sorts of road-trips, camping, and hiking opportunities to catch Pokemon in the real-life wild. With Pokemon on the line, I might have actually gotten around to planning my cross-continental vacations, since everyone knows there are different Pokemon on different continents.
Chromecast is Google's device that allows you to stream almost anything on your computer or Android device to your television. While it's been a really nice development that's allowed me to cancel my HuluPlus subscription, one of the most interesting ways to use Chromecast is as a gaming device.
Earlier this year, I looked at a Cards Against Humanity clone called Casts Against Civility. The game has since been renamed Dehumanize Your Friends, and uses your Chromecast and Android devices to enable people to play the game on your television screen. Something like this:
To play, you'll need a television, Chromecast, and an Android device for every player, along with the Dehumanize Your Friends app.
That sounds like a lot of set up for a game, but just think of how many cards you have to shuffle and get ready for a regular Cards Against Humanity session. Plus, the television offers a central location for everyone to see the cards in play, enabling everyone to pay more attention and laugh harder.
Other apps specifically for Chromecast have been popping up in the Google Play store. Games like UnoCast (Uno for Chromecast) and Trivia Cast are fun party games, and if this type of use for the Chromecast continues, we're sure to see a more varied selection.