The 1980s arcade was a splendid thing. Pixels cut through dark, smoke-filled air to the soundtrack of 50 games played by 50 people at once. Even if you were there alone, you could feel the energy of the room, as if the electricity flowed from the arcade cabinets directly into you.
In the zombie age of iPhones, we can bring an arcade anywhere we like, but that magical sense of community is gone. Which is why Moment Factory spent about a year exploring how it could bring back the feeling of retro arcades to modern environments. Their invention is called Grid. And it’s essentially a giant game of Pong, played by two people on one side and two people on the other. The players are the paddles, which they control simply by running back and forth. To score, you just need to get the ball past your opponent.
That might not sound super fun, but in practice, it looks like a zany blast. Participants are tracked by a LiDAR system–the same depth-mapping lasers used by autonomous vehicles–while the game board is projected right onto the ground. The result is a 40’x60′ digital pool of pixels for you to play in.
This isn’t the first large-scale environmental gaming experiment. In the late aughts, companies like MegaPhone tried to get people using their cellphones to play games on giant billboard displays–like those in Times Square. Those never really caught on. Yet with the technology embedded in today’s smartphones, there’s a fresh opportunity for public gaming concepts to live again. Just look at the success of Pokémon Go–which turns the world into a giant monster-catching fantasy land–or even demos like this one of Super Mario Bros. being played in Central Park. Thanks to the ubiquity of more powerful smartphones and body tracking sensors and hardware, and the rise of AR headsets, it’s easy to imagine countless games like Grid arriving in a city for all of a weekend and disappearing without leaving a trace.
Frankly, it’s a beautiful vision of the future of gaming. Because today, many video games are super-optimized, microtransaction-fueled addictions experienced mostly alone. Tomorrow, they could be cherished, public art.