Noby Noby Boy [Namco, iPhone]
In 2009, Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi had a problem. He'd just designed and released Noby Noby Boy, the world's most massive and passive multiplayer game. With a playfield spanning some 4.2 trillion meters (not coincidentally the approximate distance between Earth and Pluto), it was one he had hopes could still be completed by harnessing the collective power of every PlayStation 3 owner on the planet (current estimated worldwide sales of PS3s are just above some 37 million units).
His five-dollar downloadable game was designed so that every single player could submit the distance they'd stretched their 'BOY' in each freeform, directionless play session (after converting those meters to 'love') to the universe's only 'GIRL'. Empowered by that love, she then grows further into space by the equivalent amount, ultimately in hopes of connecting every planet in the solar system in the single unbroken chain of her body.
Sales were brisk enough in its first week that players had little problem in submitting the 379 million meters necessary to reach Earth's moon in just four days, but the ever-increasing distances and intermediate lack of short term rewards saw the pace soon slow dramatically. Players collectively crept to Mars three months later (duly celebrated with the team's DIY video above), but took another six months on top of that to reach Jupiter, last November.
At that rate, by Takahashi's estimations at the March 2009 GDC, GIRL would finally reach Pluto — and give all players the chance to see the game's true end (an ending he promises actually exists) — somewhere approaching the year 2830, lamenting in his inimitable wry way, "I'll be dead by then."
His solution? Shy of instantaneously attracting the remainder of the PS3's audience (in true art-house fashion, Noby finally found its 100,000th player willing to take the $5 adventure in early December, with Takahashi adding that "if it were Call of Duty, it could've accomplished that in just 10 minutes…"), he decided instead to tap an entirely new platform: the iPhone.
And so, almost exactly a year later, the portable Noby Noby Boy has appeared on the App Store, at an even more discounted price. This time, Takahashi and company are not marketing Noby as a game, and instead have placed it in Apple's 'productivity' category, ironically, maybe, when the App is nothing less than a naked time-waster.
Actually, that's unfair. Because the wider-angle view reveals that by attempting to harness every feature and cater to every user, the App is essentially the Noby team's answer to a whimsical would-be replacement for the iPhone OS itself.
Need the time? Why not let two analog equivalent Noby BOYs squirm it out for you. Need music? The in-app Robot can shuffle your tracks while still letting you stretch and adjust your BOY. Need to send your boss a quick note that you'll be late for work? Type the message on the body of BOY himself and email the screenshot with the in-app mail function (though, the team warns, "There's a high chance that your boss will get angry, but who knows, he or she may just forgive you!").
The most forward thinking aspects of the App, though, are the ones that once again tie your in-game play to real-world geo-spatial awareness. By using the iPhone's GPS, you can cement BOY's end to one position, then jog/drive/fly to any other, and have him stretch the equivalent amount, letting you rack up exponentially more meters than you would with days of play otherwise. And a special pixelated map section lights up points across all areas of the world that've seen local BOYs submitting their love to girl, giving you a global overview of who's playing and where, each clickable to see the regional meter-submitting champ.
The skeptics will ask: but why should we care? And for the truly reclusive, the answer is: you shouldn't necessarily, I suppose, because Noby isn't necessarily even one of those projects that gives you back what you put in. Instead, it gives us all something back for what time and attention we together can spare, both in the form of new objects to interact with (with each new planet unlocked), and in the sense of collective awareness and achievement it brings out (each new planet reached is cause for far wider celebration than WoW's lonely level-up 'ding' or a singular 'achievement unlocked').
As that bold and broad social-art-experiment, it's entirely unrivaled (especially supported as it is by such an otherwise traditional consumer game company), and throughout its life, neither Takahashi nor Noby have asked for anything more than a willingness to play along for its pan-solar-systematic goal. And when all that really requires is simple, naively comical counter-productivity (it's also not coincidence that 'noby noby' translates both as 'stretch' and 'procrastinate'), the question becomes: why wouldn't you care?
Noby Noby Boy has been added to Boing Boing's ongoing list of Games To Get, covering the best in independent and retail games.