Monday, November 17, 2008

Playful spaces - take a swing!

Bruno Taylor is master in industrial design, and he had a question: What has happened to playing in the streets? Fewer and fewer children are playing outside in the public areas. Taylor has shaped his question as a swing in a bus stop and recorded the reaction towards the installation:

This is not a game (which is what I am studying) but it is still relevant as it deals with the restrictions and possibilities there when inviting for play in public space.

A few people actually take a swing, some pose on the swing to take a photo - which in my perception is also a form of play. Some just look puzzled and distrustful towards the alien swing in the bus stop.

A bus stop is a context for waiting, often together with a bunch of strangers. People waiting there are together even though they are not. For me at least it is a dull time, where a bit of excitement would be much welcomed. But is it acceptable for adults to play in the streets? Does the design of modern cities invite for play?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ubiquitous computing - where it all started

In 1991 Mark Weiser wrote the article: "The Computer for the 21st Century" presenting the visions for future computing that he and his colleagues at Xerox PARC worked at.

Weiser states that the greatest technologies are the ones that are not noticed anymore. They are constantly present in the background, but do not call for attention. They are ready with the information we need when we need it.

Weiser advocates for a different approach to thinking about computing, one that takes natural human environment into account. The focus should be the task at hand - not the technology.

When people are very familar with a technology then they do not notice it anymore according to Weiser. He makes references to Georg Gadamer and Martin Heideggers notion of "horisont" as an equivalence to concept that the person ceases to be aware of his knowledge when something is learned sufficiently well.

Weiser also labels ubiquitous computing "embodied virtuality" - which is the process of "unleashing" computers in physical space. This is opposite to "virtual reality" that aims at re-creating the world within the virtual world.

In embodied virtuality it is very important that the ubiquitous computers know where they are and that the right scale is chosen.

The location awareness ensures that the technology can fairly easily adapt to the environment. The scale gives different possibilities. In the 90ties they worked with Tads, Pads and Yards (the former is smallest, the latter biggest). The strength of the concept is not the devices in themselves but what emerges from the interaction between them.

Finally ubiquitous computing aim at focus at the task and the "people in the other end" more than on the tool.

Weiser is mainly dealing with computing for workspace whereas I am interested in using the technology in an entertainment setting.

As Weisers' - and his colleagues' - ideas are the beginning of ubiquitous computing and thereby pervasive computing it makes out the basic idea behind pervasive gaming.

WEISER, Mark "The Computer for the 20st Century", 1991, Scientific American, pp. 933-940

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pervasive Games in Ludic Society

In the paper Pervasive Games in Ludic Society (Stenros et al., 2007) Stenros, Montola and Mäyra show how pervasive games emerge from three different cultural trends:
  1. The first, is the increasing blurring of facts and fiction in media culture
  2. The second, is the struggle over public space
  3. The third, is the rise of ludus in society
The authors recognise that pervasive games are influenced by the idea of pervasive computing. Despite of this they do not consider pervasive games as technology-based. Though technology plays an important role in creating new pervasive games, technology is not at the core of the activity according to Stenros et al. They use Montola’s definition of pervasive games as games that expand spatial, temporal and social boundaries of traditional games(Montola, 2005).

Traditional games are normally played by certain people, at a certain time, and in a set place. Pervasive games break with at least one of these three certainties.

The authors take Huizinga’s understanding of play as the opposite to ordinary as a starting point.

This contradiction is blurring nowadays in media, when we conceive truth and story, fictive and real as related to game and ordinary: This is seen in popular movies as The Game (1997), The Truman Show (1998), The Matrix (1999) and in the marketing for The Blair Witch Project (1999). In all of these pieces fact and fiction are mixed so that it is not clear what is real and fictive, and what is truth and story.

The authors make a point out of explaining how users on the Internet are playing with facts and fabricated reality. They uses identity and gender play as examples, but also ARGs that are based on fake websites and scam baiting which is playing with email spammers in order to see how far the spammer will go. These are examples of how we are using reflectivity, self-awareness and performativity as tools in order to play with meaning, speculation, fabrication and fluid identities. The authors claim that these tools become ubiquitous parts of everyday activities and that they makes the terms “truth” and “real” relative.

The second trend that pervasive games emerge from according to the article is the public and urban space movements. These are movements for reclaiming or questioning the conventions around public space. These are theatre groups; the graffiti movement; people planning events in the public space like creating a small park on a parking lot or athletic individuals that travel through the city in alternative ways such as skaters or people performing Le Parkour.

All of these street movements negotiate or comment upon the accepted use of public space and they do it in a playful way which is in line with another trend and the third that influences pervasive games, namely the rise of ludus in society.

The authors claim that the Western world has turned into a culture of gamers with the rise of digital games. They quote game researcher Jesper Juul’s definition of a classic:
“[...] game is a rule-based system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.”
This definition fits the type of formal play that Roger Caillois dubbed ludus (formal play) as opposed to paidia (free play). Stenros et al claim that the tendency is that we see more and more paidiec activities as ludic. In addition more and more games have an increased amount of paidiec elements, like storytelling in war games or combining dancing and singing with digital games like in Singstar.

What is the denominator of these different examples? Stenros et al are using Michael Apter’s distinction between playful mindset (paratelic) and serious mindset (telic). According to Apter both mindsets can result in pleasure. In order to understand what kind of activities that take place Stenros et al add further two categories: Playful context and serious context. Games are traditionally perceived as activities carried out in a playful mindset and in a playful context. But as we have seen activities carried out in a playful mindset but in an ordinary context are emerging. This situation can be even more complex as a context can be playful to some and serious to others like in Candid camera, in this case the context is fabricated.

When play is taken out of its spatial, temporal and social context: the magic circle has expanded. Play pervades the ordinary world. This is what pervasive games are all about according to the authors:
“Pervasive games have a tendency to play wildly with the different contexts and mindsets, leading into various different activities.”
Pervasive games are in other word encouraging people to interact in both playful and serious contexts.

The link to "Claiming back the streets" is highly relevant to my project. My focus is on pervasive games that pervades real space. Also the distinction between spatial, temporal and social context is interesting.

Keeping in mind that Michael Apter did not write about context but merely the internal mindset of a person. According to Apter the mindset and motivation of a person can not be affected intentionally and directly. Despite of this the context must play a role in the experience.

"Pervasive Games in Ludic Society" (Stenros et al., 2007) Stenros, Montola and Mäyra

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bringing Computer Entertainment back in to the Real World

I have just read the paper “Pervasive Games: Bringing Computer Entertainment Back to the Real World” (2005) by Carsten Magerkurth, Adrian David Cheok, Regan L. Mandryk and Trond Nilsen. This is an outline of this paper. Please have in mind that I have focused on what I have found relevant for my study in the outline.

In the paper pervasive gaming as a research field is introduced. According to the authors pervasive games can vary in approaches and the technologies that are used, but they have in common that they are games that make use of a blend between real and virtual game elements in order to create an game experience.

The authors first compare traditional games with computer games. According to them computer games have some advantages over traditional games, which is why they are more popular. These advantages are:
  1. Computer games create an illusion that the players are immersed in an imaginative virtual world through the use of graphics and sound.
  2. The goals of computer games are mostly more interactive than that of traditional games, this supposedly engage the players stronger in the game, and therefore they have a stronger desire to win the game
  3. Computer games motivates the players by provoking their fantasy, challenging them and stimulate their curiosity
Unfortunately, it is said in the article, computer games has a tendency to make players physically inactive, as the game make them focus on the screen and links them to the control (controller, keyboard, mouse or similar). This problem is addressed through developing more physically challenging games, which makes pervasive games a relevant new genre of games. Pervasive games are defined as games that: integrate the physical and social aspects of the real world into the domain of computer games. They also agree that a goal for pervasive games is to: create context-aware applications that will adapt their behaviour to information collected from the environment.

The authors describe five different forms of pervasive games in order to give an idea of the scope and diversity of pervasive games. These genres are:
  1. Smart toys are toys augmented with pervasive computing technology. The technology that is embedded in the toys, these are often sensors linked to computer logic. Actually the smart toys are not games, as they are not bound by certain rules or limitations in their use.
  2. Affective Gaming has as a goal to adapt the game environment to the feelings of the player.
  3. Augmented Tabletop Games integrate the physical state of the players into the game. Through augmentation of tabletop games they can be less static than the traditional games according to the authors. On the other hand the augmented tabletop games retain the social aspect that traditional tabletop games have. This aspect gives richness to the game.
  4. Location-Aware Games regards the physical world as a game board and the players as unpredictable “pieces” in the game.
  5. Augmented Reality Games work as an overlay on the real world, as the players see 3D objects merged into the real space. This is possible through use of different devises such as head-mounted displays, projectors and hand-held devices.
These genres use very different technologies and result in very different types of games. The question is if pervasive games can be considered a genre at all?

Why writing about this?
The article presents some interesting examples of pervasive games. Also the comparison between digital and traditional games is somehow inevitable, though I do not agree that one is better than the other - but they do have different features and offers different possibilities.

MAGERKURTH C., CHEOK A. D., MANDRYK R. L. and NILSEN T. (2005) Pervasive Games: Bringing Computer Entertainment Back to the Real World. ACM Computers in Entertainment Vol. 3(No. 3), 19.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Immersive games, ambiguity and player experience

The American researcher Jane McGonigal has been very active in defining and developing pervasive games. In the article “A Real little Game: The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play” (2003) she show how the players negotiate the boundaries between pervasive games and “real life”. Jane McGonigal has a background in Performance Studies. She focuses on the performance and on how the players are performing in order to make the game happen. In the article McGonigal argues that the players maximize their play experience by performing belief. In other words they are pretending that they believe what they know is a part of a game is in fact real. According to McGonigal they are doing this to gain a “Pinocchio effect” which is (the desire for) the game turning into real life or the opposite: that the real life turns into a “real little game”.

McGonigal uses the term pervasive play about: “mixed reality” games that use mobile, ubiquitous and embedded digital technologies to create virtual playing fields in everyday spaces. According to McGonigal immersive games, are a form of pervasive play where it is built into the communication of the game to say that it is not a game – or just not to mention that it is a game. This is to create the illusion that what is happening in the game is in fact part of the real life. The relationship between pervasive play and immersive games are illustrated in the following model:

McGonigal argues against the critiques that claim immersive games are in fact ”schizophrenia machines” designed to make sane people paranoid, and against that the player actually can not differentiate between game and reality. She states that when the players express their game experience they actually verify these prejudices, by describing how the game has altered their view on their daily lives, that when the game ends it is like waking up after a long sleep where you suddenly realize that there is another (real) life that has been neglected and a player even published a recovery guide. But these statements are mixed with remarks that make it clear that the players are fully aware of the deceit:

“Now here we are, e very one of us excited at blurring the lines between story and reality. The game promises to become not just entertainment, but our lives.”
McGonigal insists on a difference between an actual belief and then performing belief. She draws on Richard Schechner, the originator of Performance Studies, who distinguishes between two kinds of play: 1) “make believe” and 2) “make belief”. Make believe protects the boundaries between what is real and what is pretended. Whereas make belief blurs the boundaries between what is real and what is pretended. I have made this model of the two situations, in which I see the pretended as a subset of the real:

This being so there is a difference between 1) pretending to believe and 2) purposely denying the performance in order to believe “for real”. Jane McGonigal suggests that:

“The frame of representational play remains visible and sturdy to players in even the most believable performances of belief.”
This means that there is a frame, which let players know which actions and elements represent play and which that do not. This frame is visible at all times according to McGonigal. One of McGonigal’s core claims is that the longing to believe is a central driver for players of pervasive games. They are longing because it is impossible to actually believe that the game is real.

McGonigal rejects the idea that players of pervasive games should be credulous. Instead she makes use of the historian Tom Gunning’s analyzes of the first spectators. He rejects that spectators react on the first films with screams and flight is a result of pure naivety. Instead he suggests that the spectators have been “engaged in a sophisticated, self-aware suspension of disbelief”. The earliest spectators were intentionally playful participants in the creation and maintenance of the illusion as the players of pervasive games are.

When playing a game the player can experience to be “absorbed” in the game: the game has the full attention and the player becomes one with the game. The player experiences immersion. McGonigal states that it is assumed that immersion is desired by the player and it is seen as a conscious choice to surrender to the experience hoping to be immersed into the game. McGonigal makes the point that this does not fit the idea of a credulous player, that is unaware and naive about what is happening. By parting consciousness and immersion the critiques also contradict the major play theories that define play as voluntary. McGonigal writes this off as hysteria:

“By debunking the seminal myth of the naïve immersive gamers, we can stage an intervention in the centuries-spanning cycle of suspicion and hysteria over progressively and mimetic media.”
Instead McGonigal describes what is happening: The players are performing belief – it is a willful suspension of disbelief. She dubs this “the Pinocchio effect”.

McGonigal ends by stating that the best pervasive games are make the player more suspicious of, more attentive to, the world:
“A good immersive game will show you game patterns in non-game places; these patterns reveal opportunities for interaction and intervention.”.
She concludes by saying that the players’ performed belief is a conscious decision to prolong the pleasures of the player experience and a part of this prolonging is to use the skills acquired in the game on real life.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pervasiveness - a measure

Researchers sometimes speak of pervasive games as a new game genre; a group of games that have a significant something in common. The Dutch researcher Eva Nieuwdorp has problematized this approach in the article “The Pervasive Discourse: An Analysis”. The point of departure in the article is the usual definition of the term pervasive. It is simply an adjective used about an object or concept that spreads, diffuses, or goes through something. Nevertheless, when speaking of pervasive related to games it is not enough to look in a dictionary for definitions. The term pervasive derives from computer science and this relation influences its meaning.

Actually, the term relates to the term ubiquitous, which manager Mark Weiser introduced in 1988 at the Computer Science Lab, Xerox PARC. He had a vision of a new kind of computing that turned its back to the personal computer, which he sees as complex, attention demanding, isolating its users from other activities and too dominating. The new kind of computing he dubbed pervasive computing – calm computing. Ten years later IBM introduced pervasive computing which is the concept of being able to access any service or information at anytime. The two terms, ubiquitous and pervasive, can be seen as related, which Nieuwdorp claims that many game researchers does.

Eva Nieuwdorp has done a thorough job digging back to the roots of pervasive gaming. However, this does not answer the question: “What is a pervasive game?” She lists different researchers’ examples of pervasive games, which includes; Smart toys, affective gaming, location-aware game, alternate reality Games, cross-media games and adaptronics games among others.

Judging from the definitions that Nieuwdorp cites from a range of game researchers the denominator is that real space and virtual space are somehow in play within these games. This seems to be a vague denominator, which is why Nieuwdorp suggests changing the question: instead of asking, “What makes pervasive games?” she suggests that researchers try to answer this question, “What makes games pervasive?” Nieuwdorp speaks of pervasiveness as a characteristic that can be found in a range of games. I understand pervasiveness as a continuum of how pervasive a certain game is.

I find the concept of talking about pervasiveness very appealing as it leads to a discussion of what dimensions we can “measure” in order to determine to which extend the game is pervasive. I will be off hunting for dimensions…

Nieuwdorp, Eva. The Pervasive Discourse: An Analysis of the Use and Definitions of the Term 'Pervasive' in Games Research. In ACM Computers in Entertainment, January 2007.