Reading Response #7
Chapter 7: “Social Design”
Connecting with Anonymity
I seem to always relate a video game I know with a principle, and this week is no different.
Principle 7.7: “A little anonymity can go a long way.”
At times, I seek games as a way to play with others without having to know them personally, but being able to connect to others anonymously is a unique experience. As the example of Zephyr has illustrated in this chapter, people will naturally want to share their creativity, humor, and general goodwill towards people they have never met (particularly online) when given the right tools. Passing along those messages to others, with no tangible reward other than feeling good about creating/sending the message, shows how we all implicitly understand each other’s desire to connect with people and share good moments. Messaging is one thing, but cooperating with a stranger online is another. With GWAPs like the ESP Game, players work towards a goal together with just the satisfaction of being able to reach that goal with limited tools. Cooperation in games takes on a variety of forms today, from live voice chats, to messaging systems, to interacting in the video game world. Each form is slightly different in how anonymous they keep the player (a voice can already reveal a lot, and people are likely to make judgements based on what they hear). There is no one right away to connect anonymously; it all depends on the rest of the context.
Sky: Children of the Light, originally a mobile game created by Thatgamecompany (the studio behind Journey), is a game that centers anonymity from the start of the game. Players are first loosely guided by the game to explore and understand the basic mechanics, but after that, they are free to explore each area they encounter. The game’s core mechanic revolves around flight as players gain more power to fly by collecting specific objects. However, a new player might struggle to explore or collect objects on their own. This is where the game’s anonymous social aspect comes in. The game functions on servers, with players being generally randomly synced up to ones that have space. More experienced players making their rounds can choose to help new players, who are often obvious with less fancy outfits and less flying power. There are layers to meeting a new player, but the identity of the people themselves is quite anonymous until further on. Players can “see” another player by approaching their greyed out character and lighting each other’s candles. There is no text chat yet; players can only see each other’s character and tap to “honk” and express themselves. Players also can do a number of emotes, which can be collected as they progress in the game.
Connections are formed if players wish; they can advance each other’s social tree and unlock actions such as holding hands to journey together, hugging, and opening text chat with each other. Players can connect temporarily, chatting on benches that only have the chat function on until a candle burns out. Players can also leave messages at certain points, writing whatever they wish to share to other players who stop by. They can fly around and make cool tricks with friends, dress up in their favorite outfits, or spend time playing an instrument alone (and often attracting strangers to come stop by). Players can enjoy the company of total strangers in Sky, and they only engage in text conversation if they want to, and if they wish to put the resources (candles) into it. The game values the fleeting interactions between two strangers as well as those between friends, and does so by offering limited ways to communicate at first. Players are motivated to be creative, to appreciate running into new people, and get to know only others that they wish to know. As the principle says, a little anonymity does go a long way.