Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From Audience to Users in Computer Gaming

In 2006 Erik Kristiansen from Performance Design on Roskilde University wrote a paper on MMORPG’s and pervasive games in relation to the role of the players. Kristiansen arguments that computer games are mass media, though they are different from other mass media in one respect: In computer games the audience are not just reacting but actually interacting with the media.

Kristiansen states that the player’s engagement in the game even goes beyond interaction, as the player is creating a game performance. Kristiansen make a distinction between three different types of games:
  1. Reactive games: These games are in a way passive as the game play is in control of the computer, the player is not.
  2. Action games: The player can act and have full control of the game though the player is bound to use the state of the game as basis for choosing the actions.
  3. Creative games: The player has full control over the game and is even creating game play by combining game elements which alters the game.
Games are more and more offering creative possibilities to the players so that the players can play on the third level. According to Kristiansen pervasive games are mass media in a new way as they can embrace many people at one time, and at the same time they take computer gaming to the streets. Also they make it possible to promote collective intelligence in solving the games and therefore they offer creative games to the public.

Media is thought as a part of our everyday life whereas play takes place in a separate space, Kristiansen writes, and at the same time play is a core activity of everyday life. In other words media is the everyday site for play. The boundary between play and seriousness is also less distinct than earlier according to Kristiansen. This makes it even more relevant to talk about pervasive games.

I find it quite interesting to discuss if player freedom is actually adding to the game experience. I am not quite sure that self configurable games are better games. This is not What Kristiansen is saying, but the theme is here.


KRISTIANSEN Erik. (2006) From Audience to Users in Computer Gaming. The MMORPGs and pervasive games as mass media. In Publics, audiences and users: Theoretical and methodological challenges in a multidisciplinary field of research, A NordForsk doctoral course, Hotel Niels Juel, Køge, Denmark.

Augmented Reality on the Android - AR going towards mainstream

Just found wonderful news on the world wild web: An augmented reality kit is available for the Android. You can download it from github.

This means that even more applications using augmented reality will be out there soon for even more users!

Looking forward to see what is coming!

Follow the developers on twitter: http://twitter.com/androidarkit

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Do-it-yourself pervasive game

If none of the movies running are worth seeing, if you know every video game on your shelves by heart OR if you simply feel like getting outdoors and like creating an interesting game - then what about building your own game, even one that lets you use the physical environment as a playground. Yes, you can built your own pervasive game.

There are various options if you have the right mobile phone with a decent GPS unit built in.

These platforms all allow you to make your own pervasive game:

* You can download a kit with LocoMatrix
* Orbster also has a pervasive game engine
* Finally you can try out your game creating skills through the services offered at Cipher Cities

Get some inspiration playing some of the games already there - some of them are beta, others have been played a great deal. This is a nice opportunity for creative minds and academic bodies to get a hands on experience creating games that use location aware technology. And hey it might even be fun!

If anybody got a great game to recommend please write a comment!

Friday, September 18, 2009

The High Line Park (New York) - a gem

In 1980 the last train loaded with a load of frozen turkeys rolled down the High Line in Manhattan. High Line is freight train lines, which for reasons of security was raised above the ground. Or it was The High Line, because after the frozen turkeys have long since been thawed, deep fried and digested, nothing has been transported on the tracks, that have existed since the 1930s.

A demolition has been planned ever since, but prevented the train enthusiasts, as in 2002, was the city's support for pooling resources, building plans and transform the track into a public park.

The old railway High Line has not only been preserved, but opened in June 2009 as a recreation area where pedestrians can stroll along, over and under the old track from the former railway. "The High Line" park has preserved traces from the previous use, providing a unique sense of history and atmosphere! Along the paths wild grass and flowers are planted, giving a sensation of being in a park, just that it is several meters above the ground. Along the track you can find loungers, which can be moved along the track still remaining - as a reminder of what was and giving a function to what is. Along the way, we also find a station where the platform is converted into a café and meeting place. From the High Line, you can also enjoy the view over the Hudson River on one side and Manhattan on the other.

I can highly recommend the "park"! It is a gem - a beautiful example of how cultural history is preserved for and serving the people.

I 'blog' about this - though it has nothing to do with pervasive games - because it has everything to with opening our eyes to how space can be used differently, in a more playful way.

Park(ing) Day DC 2009

Just came back from a day of Park(ing)!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Pervasive games on speed - who's the rabbit?

Pervasive games - digital game that uses the physical world as a playground - is often a game-play, reminiscent of a treasure hunt combined with orienteering and adventure games. It does certainly not have to be this way. In Germany you will find this new adventure and award winning game:

The game is strategical, uses the possibilities of technology to give a classic game of tag entirely new dimensions. There are ethical or at least security issues associated with the game as I could imagine that when players become engrossed, they would tend to forget about safety in traffic and being considerate of non-players who come in their way. But these are speculations, the fact is that the game offers interesting opportunities for more action packed pervasive gaming.

The game was developed by Fast Food Challenge and you can download the game from their website, where you can also see if your mobile can run the game.

This game will undoubtedly make you break a sweat! Who would lake to join me? Man overboard!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The spaces we inhabit

Art is not about decorating world, but to take responsibility and move the world, says architect Olafur Elisson.

Eliasson has created many works around the world. In one of them - Green River - where he poured green paint in a river in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Moss (Norway), Bremen and Tokyo to give the inhabitants of the town a sense of space, its dimensions and what time and motion means for space. In that way the inhabitants can experience how their body is a part of the given space and that there is a consequence of their presence. According to Eliasson, this give people a sense of the materiality of space and thereby the knowledge that they can actually change space. It makes space available to the public.

If you go to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (with I highly recommend!) You can experience
The Matter of Time
, which is a work by Richard Serra. It consists of huge rusty iron plates, which stands on the floor and form corridors that the audience can explore and get lost in. Some of the corridors are shaped like ellipses, some are parallel. The great thing about the installation, is that while walking through it you can fell how the surroundings affect your body. You may actually find that you begin to tilt to one side, with the walls - or that you get the feeling of being crushed when the walls lean inward and closes at the top.

Richard Serra describes his work like this:
"The sculptures are not objects that its separately in the space, actually quite the opposite is true, they engender a spatial continuity with the environment In which they exist."

Serra and Eliasson alike are working with something I am very interested in, namely: How do we experience the spaces we inhabit, how do we influence on space and vice versa; and what does this mean for design of art installations (landscape) architecture, and games (pervasive games) that are set in physical space? The spaces we engage in is created and shaped by the way we use it, and it affects us even more than we sometimes realize.

Monday, June 1, 2009

You Mean It’s Only a Game?

In the article “You Mean It’s Only a Game? Rule Structures, the Magic Circle, and Player Participation in Pervasive Mobile Gaming” (2006) Alison Harvey brings ethics in pervasive games into focus. In game theory there is an implicit agreement that when playing the players find them in a magic circle, which makes out a conceptual and symbolic structure that surrounds the play world. Within this magic circle it is clear who is playing and who is not according to Harvey. In some pervasive games this divide is not fixed, which means that people can be part of the game without their consent.

The concept of the magic circle has to do with the rigidity of boundaries in games. Harvey quotes Huizinga for writing that rules are vital to a game as they create the play world by setting its boundaries and they determine what is acceptable inside the boundaries of the game.

The pervasive games can make the player aware of things in their environment that they normally would not notice. In this way, Harvey writes, pervasive games actually shift the boundaries of the real world for the players. This shift and lack of clearance of boundaries raise ethical questions when for example a non-player is integrated in the game due to the shifting boundaries. Harvey quotes Benford et al 2006 that makes a distinction between the primary user (player) as a performer and the spectators (secondary users). The secondary user is not only a person who watches the game, but also persons who have an indirect influence on the game as they can be asked for directions or even have a defined role in the game according to Benford and his co-authors. They refer to a framework “The frame of the game” that is pushed through mobile gaming. It is this framework that settles the roles of the users – primary and secondary. Within the framework there is a transition between being a primary user and a secondary user. The primary users have an unspoken contract with the secondary users that they confirm continuously through rituals, conventions, and both physical and intellectual structures. In this setting the performer – or primary user – is the frame constructor and the spectator – secondary user – is the frame interpreter.

This setup challenges the concept of the magic circle according to Harvey. The players are running around in the streets without a clear demarcation of what is inside the game world and what is not. In addition non-players or spectators can be part of the game without their consent. Benford et al do distinguish between audience members that are aware that the actions they are observing are within a performance frame, and bystanders who has not got clue of what is going on. However Harvey notes that it is pure chance who belongs to which group as there is nothing in the framework that supports the difference. Harvey criticises both Benford et al and Montola and Waern for not having serious concerns for the secondary users. Montola and Waern write that a “very engaging experience” can be obtained through the use of “social expansion” which is expanding the game socially and including non-players in the game. Harvey notes that they neglect to mention who is experiencing is for. Benford et al do realize that there is a risk when including non-players in the game. They purpose designing a “safety harness” that protects the players – not the non-players according to Harvey.

Harvey concludes that there is a lack of discussion on the ethical questions that come out of playing with frames and boundaries in public spaces. Her opinion is that play is something that the participants have to enter explicitly. She acknowledges that when games are been played in public they will draw attention and players can interact with non-players. But this should not be scripted into the design as a part of the game according to her. Harvey states that the boundary between players and non-players must remain intact for ethical reasons. She points out that this might change later, when conventions on the area develop, as they can give the non-players a clue about what is going on.

Harvey, A.: You Mean It’s Only a Game? Rule Structures, the Magic Circle, and Player Participation in Pervasive Mobile Gaming
; Proceedings of CGSA 2006 Symposium (2006)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Visions of Sara (Danish title: Saras Syner)

I would like to introduce Sara. She is the mere shadow of her own self. She is haunted by voices and foul sights. On a lot of locations in her home town Odense, she is experiencing strange things. This unnerving condition has evolved over some time, but now Sara has had it. Her last chance is H.U.B (This is Danish and short for: the Special Unit for handling the Haunted, Exorcism and Obsession), a sort of Ghostbusters team, that can solve the mystery and thereby set Sara free.

In other words Sara is the protagonist of the pervasive game “Visions of Sara”, that I created in 2009 as a part of my dissertation using a platform developed by and in cooperation with DJEEO. The project was supported by Udviklingsforum Odense (Forum for Development in Odense) and Odense Kommune (Municipal of Odense). Finally the development of the game is part of the research project Serious Games on a Global Market and of my Ph.D.project on pervasive games.

Here is video from the opening of the game (just ignore the bit of spoken Danish):

You can now play it in Odense, everything you need to do is to bring one, three or more friends at the central library and lend equipment from them.

Odense is the third largest town of Denmark. Situated in the centre of Denmark, the old town was grounded before 988 it has a lot of historical buildings and stories lying under the surface. The town was once the seat of religion with lots of monasteries, convents and churches. In old times it was even the town of the kings and queens. It was here the King Knud was killed by the mobs – in one of the churches.

Odense developed in to an industrial town, with a functional harbor and highways leading through the town. Nowadays the harbour is in a development phase from hub of transportation to hub of culture. This change is on the sketchbook and slowly seen in the harbour as well. But according to the municipal of Odense the citizens have not yet seen the full potential of the harbour. But how do they communicate and demonstrate that the harbour is no longer a place for trucks and containers, but a scene for Sunday walks and sports?

Sara would not exist if it was not for Odense. She is created to guide the citizens through the layers of the town. At first she was supposed to roam the harbour. But she decided to start in the centre of town – just to be sure to have company. The idea is to create a pervasive game that invites the players to experience the town, while playing the game.

When the players enter the streets, they follow the goal, rules and story of the game. The players perceive their surroundings through game optics. This brings about interesting possibilities, not only for game enthusiasts, but also for tourists, newcomers or for those interested in architecture and history for example. To be able to make use of this possibility, we need to gain knowledge and experience of how the rules of a game, its goals and stories influences the perception of the physical surroundings.

It is challenging to find the level of how close the game must be connected to the physical surroundings. Players have stated that a game becomes pointless if there is “no reason why they are out in the streets”. This speaks in favour of establishing a close connection to the gamers’ surroundings.

On the other hand, games that are based on one location, e.g. in the monastery garden behind the church of St. Knud in Odense, cannot immediately be moved to a new location without a game producer changing the game. The game loses its mobility, which can be one of the reasons why pervasive games have not hit the civil market yet.

The players’ experience is central to my research, because it is really the experience that is sold when a digital game is handed over the counter or is downloaded.

The project casts light upon the role of the physical surroundings and the players, together, in a number of pervasive games. That is, how the games are perceived by the players, and what it takes to add meaning to the players’ encounter with the physical surroundings. As a part of the project, the game “Sara’s visions” has been developed in cooperation with the company DJEEO (www.djeeo.dk). It is now possible to play the game at Odense Central Library – and, of course, in the streets of Odense.