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Shower Complex: A Massively Multiplayer ARG About Showering

I always fancied myself as immune to cold weather.  

I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, where it was normal to experience 60-70 inches of 'lake effect' snow on any given winter weekend.  I lost teeth while sliding around on icy sidewalks. I broke bones sledding.  I was fine; I was a victor.  I could handle pretty much anything winter would throw at me.

Over the last 10 days, I've rethought things.  

My apartment building has been without hot water for the last 10 days.  Every morning, I wake up, wanting nothing more than a warm shower - and silently hoping that the boilers will have magically righted themselves without the aid of those pesky backordered parts.  Every morning, I am disappointed.

You don't realize how depressing it can be to go without your morning shower until you're bathing yourself with water boiled in a lobster pot.  Or when you're carting your towel and flip-flops around your office at 8 a.m., hoping no one sees you sneaking into the communal shower - even though it's not really that big of a deal.  Right?  

It's also disruptive in physical ways.  I don't feel right going to the gym, sweating it up, then walking out into the cold, onto the 7 train and into the office to shower and... You get the picture.  I'm not starving or anything, but I've felt, well, victimized by all of this.  Seriously.

Thank god for Jane McGonigal.

She doesn't know it, but she's already been directly responsible for generating some of my favorite memories and friendships, thanks to a wonderful game called Top Secret Dance Off.

And now she's inspired a method for actually doing something about this lousy hot water situation, turning it into something kinda awesome.  

I've been reading her book, Reality Is Broken, which explores how we can improve our lives through the thoughtful application game techniques.  In particular, her description of SuperBetter, a game she devised to help her recover from a traumatic concussion, moved me to think about how games can transform suffering (or in my case, inconvenience) into transcendent experiences.

So I decided to make an espionage-themed, (potentially) massively multiplayer, alternate reality game about showering. (The massively multiplayer part is asynchronous, of course.  Yuck.)

It's called Shower Complex.

* * * * *

To know an environment is to delve into its most intimate corridors, to go where few else dare to go.

You're a spy of the Jason Bourne/Sydney Bristow variety. 

Your objectives are simple:  Sneak in and out of the city's most closely guarded showers. Avoid detection at all costs. And if there's time, shave.

The rules are simple:


  • You start as a junior agent, carrying a utility belt (or dopp kit) that can hold only one item at the start.
    • Shampoo
    • Soap
    • Body wash
    • Shaving cream/razor combo
    • Loofah
    • Pomade
    • Other item
  • You must designate a friend or family member as your Q, someone that you can trust with your life!
  • As a spy, you need a secret code word that is more than 9 letters and can be shared only with your Q or as otherwise indicated (see below) 
  • Play is measured in infiltration points.
  • Every time you shower at a place other than home, you earn +1 infiltration point.
    • If it's your first-time infiltrating a place, you get a bonus +1.
    • If you make it from the shower back to a designated "safe place" -- either outside of the location or at your desk (if you're at work like I have been... gross) without being seen, you get another +1.
    • If you are able to infiltrate a shower AND get a gym visit out of it, give yourself another bonus +1 for deep infiltration.
    • Up to +3 Style Points can be awarded for extra-sneaky maneuvers or clever alibis.  Run these by your Q to determine if you have earned them.
  • If you are seen by an enemy agent (aka all non-players), you lose all of your points... UNLESS you quickly shout your secret code word at the person. Then you get another +1. 
    • When this happens, you must reset your secret code word
  • You can only collect points at a location for 3 check-ins.  After that, you have mastered the location and must find a new place to infiltrate if you are to collect additional points and level up.
  • Ranking System:
    • Junior Agent (Level 1):  1 utility belt items
    • Agent (Level 2, +2 points):  2 utility belt items
    • Senior Agent (Level 3, +6 points):  3 utility belt items
    • Master (Level 4, +14 points):  4 utility belt items
    • Veteran (Level 5, + 22 points): 5 utility belt items 
    • Executive Director (Level 6, +35 points): 6 utility belt items
  • Even if you lose points, you won't drop levels -- once a new level is attained, you will permanently maintain that ranking.

It's still a work in progress, but I can say that it's already working wonders.  I reached Senior Agent status this morning and tapped out my workplace's showers.  My wife has also climbed the ranks rather quickly, and discovered a new yoga class and gym in the process.  Another of my neighbors has wormed his way into free classes at the Reebok Sports Club.  (Although he didn't actually know he was playing the game at the time... but c'mon!  He was born into this.)

I'm almost going to be sad when the hot water turns back on.

Then again, I can't wait to wash some dishes without boiling anything.


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Reader Comments (5)

This sounds very fun and even more a good idea :) Makes me want to craft a game out of something I'm putting up with right now because of the cold.

Really, how people encourage growing out of the childhood practice of making a game of everything is very silly. We could all use more fun in our lives

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Thanks! I completely agree. This game turned out to be so much fun that I've continued playing it even though the hot water came back on. :)

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosh S.

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