2013-08-23

Co.Exist

Could Earning Money One Day Resemble A Real-Life Video Game?

A farcical movie follows Berliners as they become obsessed with an augmented reality Bitcoin game, hunting for gold coins that only their smartphones can see. It seems absurd, but maybe not so much.

"It's kind of technology mixed with magic," Michael Straebig, a game designer, explains in a fictional documentary about The 1 Up Fever, a Bitcoin augmented reality app, while pointedly waving a banana. "It's what we do."

The rest of the video, directed by Silvia Dal Dosso, follows Berliners as they jump, swim, climb, and rabidly hustle for Bitcoins only their phones can see. People have stopped going to work because they're wholly captivated by bashing the currency hovering in mid-air—sometimes in very hard to reach places—like gold coins in Super Mario Bros. The rest of the film explores potential snags: Why are anonymous developers giving away coins for free? Is it because they want to collect data? Is there some sort of shadowy master plot involved? And will governments ever be able to rein in the cryptocurrency?

For a fictional documentary about a fictional game created for a real motion graphics class, Dosso succeeds masterfully in exploring the bitcoin phenomenon at once in depth and in a totally engaging way. Her work, in part, is dedicated to Bitcoinkiez, a real district of Berlin which has "the highest density of Bitcoin-accepting businesses worldwide."

The United States, however, isn't as wildly gung-ho about a decentralized currency without a central bank. Earlier this week, the New York Department of Financial Services announced it had launched an investigation into regulatory guidelines for Bitcoins, having subpoenaed 22 companies that dealt in managing the Bitcoin market. Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security also announced it would look into whether federal regulations for Bitcoin would be appropriate.

Dal Dosso's mockumentary has received much praise in the two weeks since it arrived on Vimeo. Yet, in an interview with Daniel Stuckey of Vice, Dal Dosso admitted that the technology to create a real augmented reality Bitcoin game simply was not yet in place.

Still, she said, it could happen one day. "I had many discussions with hackers, game developers, and such during the making of, and we agreed that despite the game still not being possible to make with these smartphones, it's just a matter of time," she said.

"The junky kids from the old '90s arcades will start to play Mario in augmented reality, jumping on rooftops, exploring the rivers on their gummy boats and risking their life on train tracks. They will do that to earn real money, and the virtual money of the future that is already here, with the Bitcoin cryptocurrency."

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