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.

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