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
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