What is Xi?

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I love mystery. So if anyone has any understanding of the term ‘Xi’, you may already be cowering in a corner with your hands covering your eyes, screaming for mercy. I’m a follower of nDream’s Alternate Reality Game (ARG), ‘Xi’, currently playing in PlaystationHome, and through the real world. Technically, this is a game within a game, and I feel it deserves its own review. So have some of this.

Playstation Home is a quiet place. Not just in the sense that voice-chat was disabled in public spaces months ago, but also that no-one really knows what they’re doing. Over half the population of each area speaks a different language to you, runs from one spawn point to the next exit, or dresses up as a member of the opposite sex to be ‘rebellious’. Where’s the life? Where are the spaces?

‘Xi’ has to date brought 8 new spaces to Home within the last 60 days, none requiring EA-poker-table-like queues to use. If you find your way to ‘The Hub’, you’ll notice one big update board, with updates every day (except weekends) on the ARG that is ‘Xi’. These updates span across the eight areas, various websites, online videos and world journeys.

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The term ‘Alternate Reality Game’ simply means to play a game that takes part in the virtual and real world. While your ‘ultimate self’ avatar may run around Home, unearthing mysteries, Americans are participating in interviews for fictional company ‘Veilcorp’ and the Europeans are running around photographing billboards with parts of the puzzle to playing the game. All of these experiences are brought together in Home, and through the Home forum, encouraging worldwide participation.

Xi started out with a series of hidden flashing images at the end of game trailers showing in the Home Square. A small group of people caught on, and were posting their findings online. Now, even with Xi being fully announced on the Home ‘Message of the Day’, the entrance to the game, and the spaces that it covers are not accessible from your usual location-viewer. Nevertheless, challenges starting from ‘The Hub’ are encouraging some very intuitive uses for the Home platform. From having to clap infront of certain areas and using the sixaxis to drive hover-bikes, to dressing your avatar up to ‘fool’ a CCTV camera that you are a member of Home staff.

Players are looking for a real-world woman named Jess, who’s on the run from a group of unknowns. Jess was originally an alpha tester for Home, and her ‘AlphaAFK’ friends keep in contact with the player through in-game mail, blogs and instant messaging. While some challenges require the user to simply complete a series of tasks within a time limit or find hidden items, others have required the player to watch videos of Jess’s feet as she walks through the streets of Europe asking questions about her surroundings – encouraging people to find the path she takes using Google StreetView.

But there must be a downside, right? Well, yes. As the game runs in real-time, if you’re just starting, you may feel left out with the buzz of the community, who all huddle around the latest area, taking part in virtual parties, where the dancing emoticon is actually acceptable. All of the riddles will have also been solved already, and the fun of solving it on your own is removed somewhat when there are hundreds of posts on the web giving the answer away, or annoying Home users typing in the spoilers and running around in circles to ruin it for everyone else.

Some challenges are just too challenging, and some may find themselves working with others online to get through some puzzles. Choosing a time to review the game is also difficult, as due to its real-time nature, by the time it’s all fully available, the prize will have been and gone, defeating the object of the game altogether.

As much as people try and stick up for the naffness of some of Home being ‘just a Beta!’ or ‘come on, it’s free!’, Xi really is a good reason for reinstalling Home back onto your PS3. If you want to understand the potential of Home, community participation, and spaces that update every day, get involved, and run up to that turquoise green graffiti splodge in the Home Square, next to the waterfall, and hit your big blue X button. Go on. Do it. Understand why people run from one spawn point to the next exit. You know you want to. It’s killing you inside. No really. Please?

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