Skinvaders Josh
The game gets under your skin.

Skin-invading aliens seem like the perfect topic for Halloween, no? Because here’s the hard reality of my world, friends: In the past few days I’ve stood by as hungry beasties devoured my eyeballs, laid eggs in my face, and made my brain their home.

Bedbugs? Nothing so fearsome. It’s an iOS game called Skinvaders and an example of the best (and perhaps most commercially viable) flavor of augmented reality. After scanning your face, Skinvaders turns your head into a battlefield as little monsters crawl across it, bombard it with eggs, It’s gross, twisted, totally fun. Give it to your 10-year old and let ’er rip.

My favorite examples of augmented reality have been games like this, apps that inject a whimsical (or ghoulish) element into your surroundings. The Hidden Park, for example, is a game that lets youngsters see dragons, fairies, and other magical creatures in parks around the world. Aim the camera at a tree, see winged creatures flying among its branches.

Life of George is a more down-to-earth example of using the phone’s camera for play, kind of like pictionary for LEGO. The game challenges you to build pictures from LEGOs and, when you think you’ve got it, stop the clock and take a picture of your creation. The app reads the blocks, confirms if you’ve got it right, and the game marches on. (You can also create your own LEGO challenges and use the camera to add them to the game.)

The Hidden Park
The Hidden Park.

Augmented-reality browsers like Layar have an undeniable first-blush novelty, imposing signposts on your phone’s camera view to show nearby subway stops, restaurants, and city landmarks. As technically impressive as these heads-up displays might be, I have to confess I’ve found little practical use for them. In the end, traditional map views seem to be most useful and efficient.

For me personally, the how’d-they-do-it magic of Word Lens is the only info-based augmented reality app that I’ve found useful day to day. (The app translates Spanish to English in real time, amazing.)

But in games, wow, augmented reality can paint an imaginative layer on everyday surroundings, making your world instantly more playful. Or gross. Happy Hallowen.

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