I’ve done a lot of traveling. Although I am often a picture-taking tourist hopping from one site to the next in rapid succession, one of my favorite things to do is hear the stories and learn about the local rhythms of wherever I am. There is no substitute for immersion, but it usually takes more than the one or two weeks of typical vacation time. Local hangouts and local stories are illusive, but the new app Whaiwhai aims to help travelers get the most out of a short travel experience by leading them through secret spots and local stories with a large helping of gamification.
Whaiwhai got its start in 2008 on Italy’s well-trodden tourist track with the motto “Story is what matters, Game is what triggers”. It’s always been a game, but it started out using books and SMS messaging to play your way through a city. The book supplies the narrative, highlighting local stories and uncovering little known facts about restaurants, tourist spots, and even Dante’s favorite rock. Texting location codes to the game’s number reveals “enigmas” that push you to the next clue, and encourages careful observation of each spot in order to solve the clue.
Now Whaiwhai has just released its first app, which allows players to travel their way across New York’s local spots with a streamlined iPhone application. The app uses the same game mechanics as the book/SMS version with an encompassing narrative, quizzes on hot spots, and illusive hints for where the next enigma lies.
Rough Guides and Lonely Planet have been making mobile versions of their popular guides for years, and Rough Guides has even tried to make a terrible game to draw travelers. Although its good that travelers aren’t staring at a screen the whole time, these previous apps fail to engage travelers and lose an opportunity to reveal fun and otherwise hard to find facts about tourist spots. Whaiwhai and similar apps such as Adventure Walks encourage travelers to build a closer connection with the world without getting too much in the way. Be sure to check them out the next time you take a trip.