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I think I’m a just a touch too old for the most recent Pokemon Go happening. Pokemon became a big thing when I was at university so I’m probably on the wrong side of 35 for the nostalgia fuelled behemoth that has suddenly appeared.

However, it did set me thinking, as I’m sure a lot of people have: How will Pokemon Go, or more correctly Augmented Reality, influence the future of RPGs and Larps? It certainly feels like it should.

However in all likelihood I think the potential room for development is pretty limited. Primarily for two reasons:

  1. RPGs and Larps are already about augmenting reality, it’s just in the normal case they are performing their augmentations through physical means – masks/props and calls/rules. Digital AR would only be adding layers to what has already been created.
  2. Entry level; for most small systems, and, in reality, even for large national ones, the entry level for technology is far too high for both the system and the players. Deeming it unlikely that anyone would invest the capital for such a project, it leaves only talented grass-roots creatives which will immediately restrict the possibilities to one or two personal systems.

As a third and subjective argument, AR has two major draw backs on a straight tech front. It entirely relies on a single technology which without it the game is seriously inhibited, which isn’t the best for organised events. Further, less so for RPGs, but the areas I traditionally Larp in, aren’t great for phone reception.

AR in Larp
Probably not... (c/o Pokemon Go)

The majority of features that you would want already exist. GPS, data transfer, communications can already be enabled through several different existing applications. A single application would be nice, but it’s mostly only window dressing for the functionality. Which is admittedly not to be sniffed at, but if the tech dressings are the foremost immersion problem with a system, then you have a really tight game. There can be some additional benefit of a single app, however, if some meta-game element becomes tied into the functioning of the app itself, mini-games etc, and I’ll cover the details of this a bit later.

The option to move book keeping of more complex systems over to an automatic and/or digital format is inherently a tempting prospect, but not one with credibility in any game where one isn’t constantly checking a smart device.

A significant challenge will be the expectation and requirement is that all players will need to have access to the technology involved. This expects all players to have smart phones and be willing to invest in the required data capacity for the duration of the game.

With the limits of current technology and the likely starting price of anything new coming on the market (google-glasses etc) the technology to bring AR to RPG/Larps is unlikely to be any different from what we have now, and slightly less than cutting edge to give a diverse player base.

Fundamentally, what are likely to be the effects where AR becomes an influence are by blurring the lines between computer/mobile games and classic RPG and Larps. And in this case, the movement is likely to come from the computer game industry rather than the RPG/Larp field, because the hurdles to be overcome are those associated with digital mediums rather than RPG/Larps. Where games involve face to face interaction it can be argued that these are indeed Larps and functional identically just with system mechanics handled digitally, certainly those without traditional Larp combat anyway.

  Where it can make a difference.

Well, in areas that technology is already making a difference. As in points I addressed at Nerdeast this year and last, technology offers a great deal of potential for RPGs/Larps. Particularly for Sci-fi games, there is an immediate possibility, or requirement even, for the game to capitalise on technology to match whichever sci-fi ‘era’ it is trying to simulate. It’s potentially strange however then the number of sci-fi (and probably more specifically post-apocalyptic) games actively resist the application of technology. Probably this is for reasons of practicality, no PC radios means no PCs monitoring crew radio frequencies, no GPS or wireless and PCs are cut off from outside and OOC media. But inherently by doing this, games are limiting the scope of the immersion of the aesthetic, removing things from the character’s environs that could actually be building the world further not reducing it. Maybe also there is the potential worry for runners that players’ knowledge of technology may outstrip their own.

For modern day or sci-fi games, the potential to utilise technology is very ready and obvious but even for a fantasy or historical game, there are options for technology to be harnessed to enhance the gaming experience, though in most cases obfuscated behind suitable veils.

Ghostly voices and psionic connections are all readily created with radios or recording apparatus. Behind the scenes, the ability to share information rapidly between running teams has the potential for interesting and new game plays.

  But…

However none of these are a fundamental shift on how games are played. Even running a game entirely digitally and meeting other players face to face or remotely is less of a change for the RPG/Larp player as it is for the typical computer game player. Moving the rules out of one’s head or off a sheet of paper is more an act of convenience rather than a game changing new development.

Will there be RPGs/Larp successfully integrating AR elements? Probably not, or at least probably not for the majority of users. Will there be video-games that will exist as RPGs/Larps in everything but name? Almost certainly.

I suppose the biggest definition for what makes it an RPG/Larp is the whether you are playing a character or not when you interact with others or whether you are playing yourself? I suppose one thing to looks at with this regard is the ever expanding megagame scene, where players take on roles, as in duties and objectives, and aim to play them out (role-play as oppose to character-play – which I suppose is how many would define RPGs/Larps).

Regardless of the starting point, technology will almost certainly continue to blur the lines between these hobbies and games. But as it stands, I’m not expecting anything fundamental to change for a good while yet.

(And with the benefit of making a prediction like that, if I’m wrong we all get a lot of new toys to play with.)