Above: People playing CryptoZoo
Suzie Boss: For the uninitiated, what are alternate reality games?
Jane McGonigal: When people think of computer or video games, they often think of playing in a virtual world that doesn’t exist in reality. But alternate reality game designers are trying to get people to play in the real world. We want people to bring the same curiosity, wonder, and optimism that you feel when in your favorite video games into your real lives and real problems.
SB: Your games sound pretty different from commercial products like World of Warcraft.
JM: There are two big distinctions. First, alternate reality games are not in a virtual environment. They’re built on top of social networks, so we use ordinary online tools like online video, blogs, wikis, and being part of a network. It’s not about graphics and avatars. Second, it’s real play and not role play. You don’t adopt a fictional personality. You play as yourself.
SB: Do your games actually change how people act in real life?
JM: CryptoZoo is a good example of a game oriented to changing your everyday behavior. I developed it for the American Heart Association with the mission of changing the way people think about physical activity. Right now, many of us think of physical activity as requiring you to carve out an hour and changing into your gym clothes. You think you have to go to a special place to sweat. It feels separate from our everyday lives and not integrated into what we do when we’re hanging out with our friends. CryptoZoo inspires people to say, let’s be active for the next five minutes. We teach people to see real streets, real parks, real physical environments as opportunities for playing the game.