Naveen Selvadurai, one of the co-founders of Foursquare, makes the terrific point that “Other sites want to keep you inside the computer while our entire goal is to get you out of the house.” The other founder, Dennis Crowley, has described one of Foursquare’s goals as that of making life more like a video game. The details we’ve seen this week about Foursquare’s virtual prize hunts and power-ups and other scoring opportunities certainly bear this out. Our own April Steenburgh recently tweeted about Foursquare users turning New York City into a giant game of RISK.
The combination of location-based social media with gaming brings up some very interesting possibilities, especially for merchants who adopt the idea creatively. It’s one of those ideas that seems obvious and easy: using technology to involve people in live-action promotional events aimed at the participants themselves. The most likely formula is to use social media to produce a kind of Reality Show that is also, essentially, advertising. (Off the top of my head, I’m imagining an event that rewards participants in a flash mob performance of Coke’s “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”) (Am I dating myself with that Coke reference?)
The affinity of games and advertising is a natural one, both practically and in theory. After all, games are activities and rule-sets that provide artificial motivations for action. And what is advertising but discourse designed, likewise, to provide artificial motivations for action?
Something about social media seems to makes this merger of games and advertising much more natural and inevitable. Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that social media is (after all) media, and that we have been conditioned since birth to expect ads in our media. Perhaps it has to do with how social media invites us literally to advertise ourselves, packaging and editing the character we want others to believe we are. And perhaps it has most of all to do with the degree to which branding and identities (commercial, social, political) have become inextricable from the ways we experience our public selves.
This kind of live-action roaming-location full-spectrum social media, where gaming and advertising and participation are all part of the same unified field, obviously has a lot of potential going for it. Foursquare is definitely onto something.
*My* favorite game when thinking about this kind of thing is imagining the terribly dystopian possibilities of it all. Advertising is manipulation, after all, and the sinister implications of actively involving people in scenarios of self-manipulation seem worth some worry. But that is material for another discussion. Right now, it’s enough to notice that Foursquare has really opened something new with the idea of getting you out of the house in order to get you *into* the medium.