Gamifying the Road Trip

Extraterrestrial Highway

I’m driving through the desolate desert of Nevada, blasting dancy tunes, when I pull onto the Extraterrestrial Highway, State Route 375. This stretch of road is famous for being the gateway to Area 51, a secret and well-protected government location deep in the desert that is rumoured to house alien spacecraft and possibly even life forms from galaxies far, far away. If there’s any place to have a close encounter, it’s here. The mystery and conspiracy theories that surround Area 51 and the ET Hwy attract sci-fi geeks and outer space nerds from all over the world.

Excited, I whip out my smartphone (thankfully there’s 3G service) and check in via Foursquare to the venue “Alien Research Centre,” located at 100 Extraterrestrial. Chris G is the mayor and there is 1 tip: “I Highly recommend this place for real close encounters. Also there is good beer.”

Alien Research Centre
Alien Research Centre

Then, I check into Area 51 and the Alien Fresh Jerky  (Middle of Nowhere) “It looks closed.”

The road trip: a great North American tradition. A group of friends stuffing themselves and their worldly possessions into an old Chevy something and hitting the open road. Just you, your buds and some inspiring tunes in search of adventure. And now… throw social media gaming into the mix and you have yourself a very interesting social experiment.

The emergence of the “game layer” is clear after watching Seth Priebatsch’s keynote at SXSW Interactive Conference last week. Gamifying adventures like the road trip is, perhaps, a new and fun trend that will only grow as wireless service spreads through North America like wildfire and smartphones become ever more popular. Imagine collecting digital badges and points for hitting the key landmarks along your route or sharing your tips and suggestions with fellow travelers. All the while you’re sharing your experiences in real time with friends and loved ones back home.

I’ve been on a Chevrolet-sponsored road trip from Vancouver, British Columbia to Austin, Texas for SXSW Interactive and then back – a total of more than 5,000 miles. Check out the Eh Team’s misadventures.

Along the way, we used Foursquare, Yelp, Twitter and Facebook to source all kinds of information about locations we were visiting. We were social media machines: from finding a place to dine to sourcing must see tourist attractions to checking into and bragging about famous destinations.

I-10 Van Horn Rest Area is somewhere in the middle of Texas, but it has free wi-fi – and a Foursquare check in.

“Watch out for the bum that asks for change! How’d he get there????!” says the sole tip at the venue. We never did see the bum, but thank whoever left it for the warning. Brian V. is the mayor of Great Salt Lake State Park.

“Um so happy hour starts at 11:30am. No. I’m not lying. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to start at that time,” says one Caden B. of The Jackalope venue in Austin, TX.

In every small town, great and small, there is a Facebook Fan Page or a Foursquare venue to interact with. Even in the tiny town of Ely, Idaho, there are 3 Foursquare Specials.

As the game layer begins to saturate more of our daily life experiences, gamifying adventures great and small will become a part of the mix. Earning rewards for hitting landmarks might just inspire a whole new generation of road trippers to seek out adventure and challenge themselves to explore.

Dennis Crowley himself said at his SXSWi panel that Foursquare’s ultimate goal is to link people’s “bucket list” items with the check in to create a digital time line of all the fun, quirky and exciting things we’ve done in our lives. Foursquare will add value to the experience by helping you literally check things off your list and ping you when you’re near an experience you’ve flagged as a “must do.”

I only hope that one day soon, Crowley and the Foursquare crew will make an Extraterrestrial Highway badge – among others!

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