"ipse" is an experimental game for Android that encourages players to rethink their own identities by having them create avatars that are only collections of sounds and energy, offering a new perspective on interacting with others and exploring the world. Genre-wise, it might be considered an "art game": a game that uses its gameplay to tell a narrative that offers a commentary about life, rather than focusing on just creating a fun but shallow experience.

The idea is that unlike most digital avatars, which often resemble our physical selves or are always at least represented in some sort of "creature" form, ipse has its players create avatars that are collections of sounds and energy. Visualized as a sort of amorphous amoeba, each avatar has an elliptical membrane, but this serves only as a container and not as a representation of the player’s identity in and of itself. Within this membrane, waves and particles serve as visual cues for the sounds and energy that represent the player's virtual projection of themselves, and these are fully customizable.

Avatar creation is purposely intended to be a large portion of the game, encouraging players to rethink their own identities. For the actual gameplay, players take their avatars out into a virtual space, which is primarily just an explorative process. They encounter "food", which can be eaten; a certain amount of food will allow players to "level up", which consists of gaining a new particle of sound that players must integrate into their identity, simulating human growth over time. They also encounter barriers and obstacles, which prevent their passage or damage them, respectively, until a player has reaches a certain level, at which point they can pass safely on by.

But perhaps the most poignant aspect of the game is interaction with other players. When two avatars meet, they can overlay each other in the virtual space, synchronizing their individual sounds to produce a new and more powerful song. In this synchronous state, each player is given a simple choice: give one of their sound particles to the other player, take a particle from the other player, or do nothing. This simulates human interaction as a process where "particles" of information are constantly given and taken. And just like we need to integrate this information into our own worldview, each sound particle that an avatar takes or is given must be integrated into their personal song.

Because it is an art game that is meant to tell a story through metaphors rather than being achievement-based, ipse has no end condition. Leveling up and progressing through the game world to more challenging areas simply serves to give the game structure and the players intermediate goals to work towards. The ultimate goal of the game is to encourage players to look at the world and life in a new and different way.

This was my final project for 2 classes: Creating Digital Games, which focused on learning how to program simple games in Processing and Java; and Identity & Evasion, which dealt with identity and privacy in the information age. I conceived the project when I was thinking about how my seemingly disparate course selections overlapped, and I realized that one of the concepts that has always fascinated me is the use of avatars and online personas.

What resulted was a somewhat manic foray into Android programming, which I had no experience with and which the course didn't really cover. However, when I decided to focus on avatars based on sound, I knew I also wanted the intimacy of a mobile touchscreen device. The game also makes use of Amazon Web Services' SimpleDB API, so that gameplay is real-time, online, and multiplayer, allowing users to hear each others' sounds and interact if they happen to be playing at the same time.

ipse is available on the Android Market, though it has not been updated since the initial push to get it live in time for the 2011 ITP Spring Show.