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“Playce” — a website you navigate by playing video games

As I’ve written before, video games were the first place we learned how to interact with information on a digital screen. Icons? Controller movement? Screen-scrolling? Navigation of complex menus? All these concepts now part of computer interface design were first hacked out in games.

So now Steffen Walz, a PhD student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, has closed this loop — by designing “Playce”, a web site that you navigate by playing it like a retro-80s video game.

Playce is divided into two panels vertically, and you begin by picking one of four different types of games based on your personality. As you play the game, you unlock different parts of Walz’s site (which is mostly a portfolio of his design work). Pick the “achiever” game and you’ll be playing a version of Breakout, where you have to destroy certain bricks to navigate to different site pages. Pick the “killer” game, and you play an old-skool shooter where you blast little tanks, soldiers or planes to go to pages. (That’s a snapshot of one section of the “killer” screen above.)

As Walz notes on his web site:

The art and craft of make-believe place-making challenges architects, urban planners, game and interaction designers, and it likely to (need to) take advantages not only of the game generation’s competencies … but also reflect the expectations of the Homo Ludens Digitalis, who has been trained to win not only in the gamespace, but in the gamespace that is everyday.

As Walz noted in an email to me, the interface isn’t exactly an efficient way to navigate, but it’s pretty thought-provoking. And it makes me wonder: Are there any examples out there of web sites that navigate in gamelike fashions, without directly referencing games? I.e. in a more subconscious way?

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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