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Top Game of 2020 - ImproveMe

Since I mistook the deadline for the Game of 2020 contest as being later.. I appear to have gone over it. So I'll post it here instead! I didn't want thousands of dollars in prizes anyway. My concept is in the form of a loosely journalistic piece.
The Worldwide Phenomenon of ImproveMe

July 16, 2020 - Jack Benton

The top selling game of 2020 is a controversial title called ImproveMe. Part of the debate surrounding this game comes from the controller interface it requires and the other half is whether or not the game actually does what it claims: making the player a better person.

The Software

ImproveMe has become the centerpiece of the so-called Self Help 2.0 market, with everyone who's anyone in the field falling over themselves to create a branded module for this wildly popular hardware/game combination. Modules have been made for a wide range of topics, targeting topics of worry and concern to modern society Americans and Europeans. The first ImprovePacks featured lessons for fitness and financial success. Later modules and bundled "packs" tackled personal topics like dating, marriage, parenting and achievement topics like schooling, career training, and business skills. More modules are popping up every day with subjects too diverse to summarize.

Critics of the system contend that ImproveMe does not deliver on its marketing claims, that it does not really teach, train, or treat players so much as entertain them - make them THINK that they're progressing in a healthy way. They point to the fact that none of the modules have attained accreditation or allow the players to attain official certifications. Former players have admitted that the perception of improvement is not a lasting one. Psychiatrists, teachers, and trainers largely maintain that the real-life interaction between them and their students cannot be synthesized and attempting to do so can do more harm than good.

Proponents argue that certification will happen in time, the training value is real, and they point to thousands of player profiles who profess to ImproveMe's positive effect on their lives. Heavily marketed customer quotes state that the system changed them for the better, making them enjoy exercise for the first time or mend a broken relationship. ImproveMe developers continually point to their high rates of customer satisfaction. Organizers of the net play service called ImproveUs say that group interaction with fellow players is just as valuable as any personal trainer.

Beneficial or not, ImproveMe is a major market force and a powerful cultural trend. ImproveSoft claims to have sold nearly 3.6 Billion units worldwide and projected sales are expected to increase. The games have been referenced in countless news stories and shown up depicted in movies, tv, and even other video games. Even without the approval of institutions, many businesses use ImproveMe scores as prerequisites for membership, employment, and so on.

The Hardware

Beyond the software, the ImproveLink hardware component is steeped in numerous controversies of its own. Utilizing the visual computing power of either major console (Sony Playstation 9, XBox @, or Nintendo Woo), it is the first controller to interface directly with the player's brain chemistry. While not attaining the fully internal functionality of a neural lace (still predicted to be many years away), ImproveLink gets as close as possible by way of an ear clip that sends and receives brain waves and hormones. As players everywhere can attest, this allows the game to move from screen technology into the player's own mind - and by way of suggestion, seemingly into the world around them.

The effect of simulating reality is uncanny. Within the limits of perception-only objects being superimposed on the physical world, ImproveLink does an impressive job of convincing the player. Obviously, determined players can pass right through "solid" objects and unexpected environmental changes can show the mirages for what they are. But when the conditions permit, what is added to the player's perception can look, sound, feel, smell, and taste just like anything real.

The officially sanctioned Transparency Mode has some critics professing to the dangers of players wreaking havoc by their reactions to objects that don't really exist. ImproveSoft recommends only engaging in activities listed for the module but many people disregard this every day. There have been accidents caused by people playing where they shouldn't (e.g. driving) but law enforcement spokespeople have not considered this a widespread problem.

What does have police and federal agency attention is the Unsanctioned Module trade. Depending on which lawyer you ask, these modules not authorized by ImproveSoft are considered illegal as breaches of several license agreements. These modules may contain everything from depictions of illegal activities to experimental perception modifiers, to mental "viruses" which affect the player's cognitive abilities. A few of the first modules even modify the ImproveLink firmware to alter how it operates.

The most famous of these enables a full immersion method, the so called "Opaque Mode". This mode does not leave the player conscious or aware if his or her surroundings. It induces a dreamlike state in which all of the body's sensory and motor functions are linked solely to the ImproveLink and the illegal module running simulations through it. The player's mind is then 100% inside the game world, with the only escape being the pause command.

Health officials and law enforcement speak out regularly over the risks and horror stories surrounding the use and misuse of "Opaqued" units. There are reported cases of players losing touch with reality, forming addictions to modules, and developing new neurological disorders. Software bugs and crashing incidents have sent a few unlucky people to the hospital. There are also a growing number of reported cases of sexual molestation occurring with Opaqued Link units acting as a tranquilizer.

ImproveSoft has made numerous announcements concerning their efforts to heighten security but each measure they have taken has eventually been thwarted by determined module writers. Details of the security battle have not been made public, so it is difficult to determine success. The trade continues.

The Modules

A list of the most popular modules this year shows that unsanctioned software has gained considerable notoriety:

1. Worktime Rewards - Office
2. Rock Star Hero
3. Good Grades - Elementary
4. Personal Assistant 3 - Mind Body & Spirit
5. Celebrity Sexx (Unsanctioned Module)
6. Haunted (with Unsanctioned TruHor'r patch)
7. Mario YourWorld
8. Hell War II - FragFest expansion pack
9. Mindwarp (Unsanctioned illicit drug simulator)
10. Bratz BFF Power!

Three of the top four spots are still held by fully sanctioned modules sold as bundles through ImproveSoft, a statistic that they are continually proud of. Marketing material has long since excluded full Top 10 or even Top 5 lists, instead they cherry pick the remaining sanctioned modules as "top selling" or "most played". The company makes full use of the many reviews and thank you letters they receive from customers.

The customer majority of these "top selling" modules give very high marks. Players profess to the personal gains they've achieved since purchase time: being happier and more productive with work or school; feeling more accomplished with their personal lives, fitness, and well being. Satisfaction rates are off the charts and repeat sales are nearly guaranteed.

The experts may not agree on ImproveMe's promise of personal improvement but customers tend to agree with a resounding "Yes".

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