Cities, wandering, serendipity and (wait for it) zombies

Cell phones and GPS can easily take the thinking out of urban navigation, obscuring the reality of making our way on our own with the reality of screen and algorithm. Of course we can, in more playful mode, use augmented reality—as with the video game described below—to get ourselves out of our urban ruts. I wonder if a more philosophical GPS system would have, next to the button that says “Take me home”, one that says “Get me lost.”

I’m very weary of the hipster obsession with zombies by now. Cut it out, hipsters. So I felt shame the other night as my friend and I sprinted through the dark along treacherously uneven brick sidewalks, running from zombies and loving it.

Not real zombies, or even hipsters—we were responding to an awesome app for Android phones called Zombie, Run! It’s a location-based game of sorts that places a bunch of zombies between you and your destination on the map. When you’re near enough to a zombie, it begins to give chase. You must reach your destination without a zombie catching you and eating your brains. It’s lots of fun and can make mundane trips much more interesting, especially if you enjoy running around like a maniac in public.

But a game like this is also fascinating when you set down your can of High Life and put on your Geographer hat. It directs a kind of spatial behavior that technology more often stamps out in one way or another—wandering. While our gizmos usually tell us exactly where something is and how to get there, here is something that forces a person to stray from the direct path. Assuming the player keeps his eyes open and actually notices the world around him, the game provides an interesting way of experiencing and understanding urban spaces. By acting upon virtual landscape in the physical landscape, the player travels unpredicted paths and enters areas that might otherwise never have been seen.

from “Zombie psychogeography” by Andy Woodruff, Cartogrammar, 23 August 2010

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