diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We established yesterday that I'm a sad case who keeps track of pointless transport statistics despite them being of zero practical use. If you're a sad case who fancies keeping track of pointless transport statistics despite them being of zero practical use, then Chromaroma might be for you.
Chromaroma is a game that shows you your movements and location as you swipe your Oyster Card in and out of the Tube. Chromaroma is an online multiplayer game played out as you travel the city with your Oyster Card. By using Oyster data we are able to show you your Tube travel, and every journey means you amass points, taking a few steps further along the way to owning London.
A game fuelled by Oyster data? Now that's clever. Every time you touch in or out with your Oyster card, Chromaroma notices. It takes 48 hours for the data to come through from TfL, but then all your visits to various stations are totted up to score points. There are swooshy graphics to look at, and dynamic maps, if you like that sort of thing. Everyone's part of a colour-based team battling for glory, and teams claim stations as their own when they've swiped the most points. Bonus points are awarded for completing Collections, such as 450 points for visiting all the stations near major football grounds', or 1000 points for visiting every station on the Hammersmith & City line. Then there are special missions, like visiting a particular station at a particular time, or pretending to scour the capital for late-night ghosts. The whole of the capital's train network is covered, including DLR and overland rail, so even South Londoners can join in. And Barclaybikes too, for good measure. Excited yet?
Chromaroma is a type of location-based top-trumps. You collect places, identities, modes of transport and passengers as you travel around the city; discover and investigate mysteries attached to different locations and build alliances with fellow passengers that share your journeys. It’s a game you can play on your own, or part of a team.
Chromaroma is part of the gradual 'gamification' of data, encouraging users to amend their everyday behaviour through the accumulation of virtual rewards. For example you wouldn't normally visit both Abbey Wood and Worcester Park, but Chromaroma can check if you have, and there are 200 points on offer if you do. Tempted, anyone?

I'm not. Admittedly I've not joined up and had a play, but I've dug deep enough below the password-protected front page to be uninspired. Is the green team winning this week? Has anyone unlocked the three secret missions at Elephant & Castle? Who's the top swiper at Totteridge & Whetstone? I find it hard to believe that anybody cares.

Last year a journalist got so excited by Chromaroma that they wrote possibly the biggest load of techno-marketing-drivel the Guardian has ever published, which was rightly slapped down by more than 70 negative comments. Some of my blog's readers might, I admit, be sufficiently digitally transport-geeky to be excited by all this. But if you require a gameplay incentive to go exploring the fascinating city of London, I reckon your priorities are probably misplaced.

Chromaroma, if played seriously, can be expensive. Visiting stations requires you to touch in or out each time, which costs money. If you only travel via your normal commute, no problem - although you won't score many points playing like that. But go out of your way to visit all 15 stations in Hillingdon, or 50 stations with the word 'Park' in their title, and the Pay As You Go will cost you a fortune! It's no good having a travelcard, by the way, because Chromaroma only works if you're an Oyster user with a Pay As You Go history. There's supposedly some contorted get-around involving setting an Oyster Extension Permit on your travelcard, but OEPs are the work of the devil and a sure fire way to throw away six quid every time you mis-swipe.

Most worryingly, at least to those of us who still value data privacy, is that Chromaroma demands password access to your Oyster account. Unless you give the programmers your security details, you can't play. "We do our best to protect your TFL password," they say, "but you may wish to change this to a password that you don't use anywhere else." That's nowhere near reassuring enough for me, sorry. And do I really want a select group of online players knowing precisely which stations I've visited, even if it was 48 hours ago. No I don't, for stalking reasons. Count me very very out.

The game has dozens of users, so my concerns clearly aren't shared by everyone. Younger folk are increasingly comfortable sharing their entire lives online, without fear of repercussions, because that's the way our interconnected world is going. So if you're a sad case who fancies keeping track of pointless transport statistics despite them being of zero practical use, and likes flashy graphics, and likes going out of their way to meet challenges, and has cash to burn, and doesn't mind sacrificing privacy and security, then Chromaroma might be for you.


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