PCs bring a game of tag to the urban playground

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The Independent Online

It's news to delight or horrify those who think the computer has given us a generation of sedentary, socially inept youngsters. That most basic of childhood games, tag, can now be played on a PC.

Research students have developed a virtual version of the playground favourite in which participants use handheld machines to tag competitors in their vicinity. It doesn't necessarily involve running about, reckless chases and grazed knees, but it will expose its players to the great outdoors.

In truth, CitiTag has been designed primarily for adults to play in city centres. And the game itself is the mere by-product of a PhD research project - although it seems highly likely it could quickly become a national craze.

CitiTag, created by Yanna Vogiazou and Bas Raijmakers, involves two teams whose players each use a handheld WiFi-enabled (wire-free) PC equipped with GPS (satellite navigation). When the PC senses the presence of a rival, the player presses a button on the screen to tag them, rendering the opponent powerless until "untagged" by a member of his or her own side.

Yanna, a full-time research student with The Open University, and Bas, who attends the Royal College of Art, developed the initiative to create with the OU's Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) and its Centre for New Media (CNM) "an enjoyable social experience, stimulated by real-world interaction".

Yanna said: "It all started while we were discussing mobile games during a workshop. We wanted to look at virtual spontaneous interaction, like a sort of Mexican wave online.

"We began to have this crazy idea for a game and got lots of help from KMi and were eventually able to trial it."

The first run of the game involved nine people at the OU's Milton Keynes headquarters, but within a month 16 people were playing virtual tag in Bristol city centre - with the data contributing to the researchers' PhDs.

"It would be interesting to see where this type of research leads," said Yanna. "We'd like to think about seeing if the technology can transfer to mobile phones but we'd need funding for more research. But CitiTag is fun and the sort of thing that could take off as a craze."

The key to this would appear to be identifying an audience that is old enough to recall the simple pleasure of the game, yet young enough to embrace modern technology.