Google's Gamer Patent

Online games are an escape. Even better, for most people, they're a private escape. Any hour, day or night, some dude in Iowa can sit down, log on, and boot up. Then, after an hour or two (or six) of battling through World of Warcraft or flirting in Second Life's Midnight City, he shuts down, and returns to his carbon-based life.

But what would happen if his sense of privacy was gone? Would the success of online games be hampered if the gamer thought that someone, somewhere was monitoring his play?

That's the question raised now by Google. As detailed in a report in the Guardian, Google filed a patent last month for tracking gamers' online activity and selling the data to advertisers. Under the plan, personalized banner ads would appear on the player's screen. For example, the patent reads, "If the user has been playing for over two hours continuously, the system may display ads for Pizza Hut, Coke, coffee." What no Cup 'O Noodles?

The overall effort is to engineer an instant online personality profile. "User dialogue (eg from role playing games, simulation games, etc) may be used to characterise the user (eg literate, profane, blunt or polite, quiet etc)," the patent reads, "Also, user play may be used to characterise the user (eg cautious, risk-taker, aggressive, non-confrontational, stealthy, honest, cooperative, uncooperative, etc)."

I'm not surprised at all by this kind of Orwellian ad-speak. As games shift more and more online, companies will have to find ways to monetize play. But they need to do it in a way that doesn't piss off the players - who will surely find, or create, alternatives of their own.

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IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.

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