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.

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