Shadow Cities: A nerd community in a mobile MMO

Posted by Miztres On February 10, 2012 2 COMMENTS

MMO gaming is about community.  They are a chance to share an adventure with friends (or at least like-minded people) wherever you may be. Making strangers into communities that support and encourage each other is at the heart of all MMO so it’s not a surprise that the mobile MMO, Shadow Cities ( encourages mentoring and community building.

Shadow Cities (available only on Apple iOS) is a very simple game at heart.  You are a mage recruited to fight the spirits that plague human kind in the Shadowy realm one step removed from our own plane of existence.  These Shadow realms overlay a map of wherever you are located in real life using the devices GPS and Google Maps information.  Thus you find yourself battling for the defence of your own suburbs, making yourself Shadow Lord over your town.

You make your mark in the Shadow realm by putting down various forms of infrastructure such as beacons (that other fellow mages can use to visit your realm), dominators (that draw power from gateways in the heart of realms), wards (that automatically defend against enemy attack) or spirit catches (automatically catch passing spirits and can be used for defence).

You can hunt many spirits alone but some like Archane Weavers (giant spiders spirits) have to be battle on mass, 20 high level mages is a comfortable group.  Coming together at a well-known spirit hotspot is a great way of older mages to mentor and support the gaming of younger players or help a fellow beleaguered mage.

The game encourages this behaviour with gifts for being chosen as a mentor by a young mage and providing tips and tricks through the multiple chat options (from very public status announcements like Tweets to private communications between two players) in the game.

Most of all the game encourages community by creating what all groups psychologically need, an us and them mentality.  Before you even start the game you are asked to choose sides, either becoming a green Animator, denoted by a tree symbol or an orange Architect denoted by a compass. There is an established culture assuming Animators are art based working with nature (think elves) and Architects are science based working with tools and intellectual innovation (dwarves?).  It makes no difference to the mechanics of the game but it does build on that idea of community and that possibly there is a threat, if not greater than that of the spirits, at least more immediate.

Realms are fought for, sometimes ruthlessly always at the instigation of an individual but usually by a group moving on mass (100 plus mages is not unusual in northern hemisphere battles) into enemy areas to banish the mages and destroy infrastructure.

Your real world position is an important part of the game mechanic.  Players have been known to go out walking or even driving looking for enemy locations to exploit.  Strategies such as adding beacons just out of sight of discovered enemy territory and inviting friendly mages to attack are popular.

What interested me the most about Shadow Cities was the feelings of community that often extends beyond the confines of the game play.  Competitions will start within the status chat to create the best emoticon art.  Players have created artworks out of the infrastructure in their realms, an example was the mass display of Spirit catchers that formed a Christmas tree when the gateway was highlighted.  Games within the game have been created by players including an arena (2×2) where mages from the opposing factions slug it out not for control of realms or energy resources but just for the pride and honour of their factions. Players form role-playing groups in the status chat or just chat about completely off-game topics.

Grey Area (creators of the game) promotes community on the website by providing the ability to ‘like’ friends realms providing in-game benefits and giving space on their website for hints, tips, game improvements, even fan-fiction.  It is here on the website, that you see how large the worldwide community is and share in some of their knowledge and skill.

Shadow Cities is a very simple MMO but its emphasis on community building has made it an addictive and rewarding play. Being mobile, playing the game in the area you are located and being able make your personal mark in that setting are drawcards, but people stay fighting because they have a personal stake.  Others rely on them to be there, to upkeep their realms and jump into the fight when things get hot.  I’m sure this sort of community building is not new in MMOs but in Shadow Cities it is core to the experience and all the better for it.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Jessica Cheetah says:

    What a well written article 🙂
    As a player myself, i think you have expressed exactly what shadow cities
    is all about.
    I would highly recommend anyone who has never played to join in the fun.
    It’s a little tough at the start till you gain power and friends but well worth it :O)

  2. Jessica aka Cheeta says:

    Ps. I loved the community Christmas tree 🙂

Leave a Reply