Chromaroma

30 03 2011

A collection of my thoughts on Mudlark‘s Oystercard data game – Chromaroma.

About 4 months ago, I was contacted by a student journalist who had tracked me down as the winner of Season One of Chromaroma.
Tina just sent me the articles she wrote about the game, which nudged me into remembering that I’d started a blog post of my own back in 2010, with the idea of reflecting upon the concerns raised by Jemima Kiss’ slightly confusing piece on Chromaroma at the time.

Tina Remiz’s articles are here and here. Below are the answers I gave to her questions.

Why did you join the game?
Several reasons, I’m interested in pervasive gaming – how people can reengage with their mundane habitiat by playing within it. Also because I’m a low level train geek! I don’t go out of my way to ‘spot’ trains or look up facts, but I do like to notice things when I’m on my commute. I love how the tube network is an integral part of London life, influencing how people relate to the city as well as the strange instinctive ettiquete caused by squishing so much humanity into such a tiny space.
I know that Toby Barnes is also into Psychogeography, and so I thought the game might hit on some interesting ideas.

Are you still playing?
I’m still using my Pay As You Go Oyster card, although I’m thinking of switching back to a travel card to save money. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t ever unsubscribe from the game.
I have stopped visiting the website however, I’ve not been keeping tabs on my score for a while now. I think mainly because there’s no chance I’ll win again!

– Are you enjoying the experience and what is so cool about Chromaroma?
It’s an ambient game, so ‘enjoying’ is perhaps an inaccurate word. It is something I have chosen to be part of and that makes me happy in the same way as other positive decisions do. What is cool about Chromaroma for me, is that it overlays everyday choices with a reward criteria. If I have to make a tiny choice such as ‘which of these two equidistant stations should I head to?’ I will be able to make that decision more rewarding in my head by thinking of which station will get me better in-game benefits.

– Are you just collecting points as you go, or did you make some trips just because you’ve accepted a mission?

I have never gone massively out of my way to visit a station, I have on occasion checked the website before going somewhere out of the ordinary, just to see if there’s a chance of grabbing a mission before setting off. There was a ‘collection’ called Shoreditch Tw*t that I went out of my way to collect the last station in order to complete it.
I won the first season of the game most probably because at that time I was a freelancer and so I dotted around to new stations more than players who commuted to their set home -> work stations. I’ve not come anywhere near winning these last two seasons.

Any interesting stories? Places discovered? People met?
– What’s the importance of those type of games? Do you know/play any similar things?

This game feels like it belongs to the stable of location based ‘games’ such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Unlike these services, Chromamroma is concerned more with the build up of information over time. 4sq and Gowalla are about immediacy and the transendental moment, your check-in at a location is disposable and forgetable. Chromaroma HAS to be slower, and HAS to be these same set locations (tube/bus/bike stops) It builds up a map of your personal relationship with the city rather than with the people within it.

I’d also be inclined to put it with ChoreWars/EpicWin as a neat way of turning a chore into a passtime.

– Does Chromaroma experience go beyond online? Have you met any other players?
I know other players, but I’ve not met up with any whilst out playing. Unlike Gowalla or Foursquare, it’s not possible to see who is nearby to you in real time and so you can’t spontaneously meet up. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever done that with either of those services! But it is part of the idea of those ‘games’ that it is possible.

– What could be improved?
I know that it can’t really be helped that the game has to get it’s data from TfL two days after the journeys happen, but the time delay in getting feedback for your actions really detracts from the impact of the game. I can think of lots of fun little challenges and puzzles that could be played out on the Chromaroma set-up, but I’m a game designer, so I would! 😉
I guess another factor that could be improved is the players’ sense of agency, the gamespace being one that the player has to pay for and primarily use for utilitarian purposes means that choices tend to be limited by circumstance the majority of the time. Putting more strategy into how the player interacts with the website – choosing missions etc – could increase the player’s overall feeling of control.
Another impossible want would be for the game to register the interchanges made when under ground, anyone who has ever traveled by tube, will know that navigating from entry to exit is a whole strategy game unto itself ^_^

Hope this is useful. You might also get something out of this Guardian blogpost about the game, including the arguments in the comments. I chipped into that about half way down http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/8586058

[I’ve copied my comment below (this is as far as my original 2010 post got)]

JonA1966

So my whereabouts can be sold to a private company for effectively nothing (this type of business never has significant start up capital) – whatever happened to data protection?

@JonA1966 – your data isn’t sold to a private company. TfL stores all your travel data and gives you access to it – normally via one of those machines in a station. If you choose to play Chromaroma, you give the game permission to see that data too. Nobody sells anything.
This might not be what it says on the tin, but this is what Chromaroma *does*: it allows you to visualise and quantify the ‘data shadow’ you cast, merely travelling about.

Why would you want to do this?

Everyone who has an Oystercard generates data about which gates they go through and when. Nobody looks at this information, it just sits there until it gets old enough on TfL’s systems to be legally deleted (like the receipt roll in a shop, they have hold it for x months).
They aren’t set up to watch where people go and when, they’re set up to monitor what they spend. The nice thing Chromaroma does, is reinterpret the commuting population’s spend data back into being about people. I like the thought that a huge corporation that I pay tithe to, could start caring about ‘people’.

I’ve played Chromaroma for a year now, I don’t care about winning or getting points to be honest, but I do love this game because every time I get out at a new-to-me station, I think “I’ll get a new bonus score for being here” and it reminds me to appreciate the small excitement of going to a new place in my own city.

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One response

13 07 2011
Alexandra Crossley

Hi there,

I am contacting you from the Lounge Group marketing communications agency based in London Bridge. I noticed you had recently blogged about the Chromaroma game and was wondering if you would be available to talk a little about your experience with the game to be featured in a report we are compiling on current consumer trends. Ideally we are looking to meet up in London (any location) over the next couple of days to film a short on camera interview.

please get in touch if you can help atall!

I look forward to hearing from you,

All the best!

Alex Crossley

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