Monday, July 9, 2012

augmented zombies and aural immersiveness

Last year I wrote about zombies and massively multiplayer augmented reality role-playing games (MMARRPGs) and the potentials for fun and terror as you run around a city being pursued by augmented infestations of walking dead. But a few days ago I had the opportunity to try out a different way of populating place with the undead using a new Android app called Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run! follows an entirely different format to the confusingly similarly named Zombie, Run! that I described in my previous post. While Zombie, Run! situates the user/runner on/in a map of their urban environment, Zombies, Run! is less spatially aware experience.



The app is essentially an ebook broken up into a series of missions (i.e. chapters) that place you at the centre of the story. You crash land into a community of survivors during the zombie apocalypse and then have to constantly run in and out of the camp for a variety of reasons: "people are shooting at you, run!", "we need supplies, run!", and of course..."zombies are getting close, run!"

To add to the fun (terror?), you can activate your phone's GPS so that the app can track your speed. This is where the the fear really kicks in. When you hear "zombie approaching. 50 metres," you have no choice but to launch into a sprint, no matter how tired you are.

There have been quite a few negative reviews of the app: mostly focusing on the fact that (unlike Zombie, Run!), you don't actually have to move to progress through the story and 'win' the game. In other words, the app doesn't really care where you are, and so doesn't live up to its potential as an augmented reality role-playing game. But I think that these critiques miss an important point.


While it is possible that the app's minimal spatial awareness is an afterthought, it remains that aural augmentation has long been the most powerful way in which we blend material and digital stimuli. The app doesn't need to be fully spatially aware to achieve its purpose (i.e. to entertain you, make you run, and terrify you). 


Ultimately it would be 'nice' if the app did place you on a map and make you run from ephemeral, yet spatially-grounded, zombies that populate your urban environment. But the apocalyptic narrative, combined with your phone's awareness of your speed, is still enough to fundamentally transform your experience of the city. This all means that I'm going to keep running with headphones in my ears; collecting supplies, going on missions; dodging zombies; and darting past people who have no idea that I'm surrounded by the living dead.

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