Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dissertation on Location-based Games

I have now defended my dissertation on location-based games. And it went well. Now it is time for the dissertation to live its own life. I invite you to read it (link to download is in the end of this post), and hope that it will inspire, illuminate the area, perhaps provoke, and lead to fruitful discussions.

Allow me to present its contents briefly: In the dissertation, it is explored which prerequisites are necessary in location-based games to make meaningful the meeting between players and spatiality with an emphasis on physical locations. Throughout the dissertation, it has been shown that LBGs affect players’ perception of and behavior in everyday spaces, as the games reside on the boundaries between the continuums of play and ordinary, authentic and fictional, and as they merge physical and digital media. These are termed the six dimensions of location-based games. location-based games let the player explore the boundaries between these dimensions and the dimensions are related through play. The location-based game acts as a mediator for the meeting between the player and locations through the boundaries between these six dimensions. The motivation of the dissertation is to push the development of and research in location-based games toward actualizing the potential for expanding location-based games’ spatial aspect even further and to contribute with a cohesive framework on location-based games.

This dissertation consists of a review of previous research and existing location-based games, and a theoretical discussion of the elements of location-based games encompassing: 1) Spatiality: space and place, digital space, mediated spaces (physical and digital), locations as play-spaces. 2) Structure: rules, frames, fiction and authenticity, and uncertainty and ambiguity. 3) Interface: Location-aware devices, seams, and objects and players. 4) Player experience: Motivation, mobility, meaning, and finally, a discussion of flow, immersion or incorporation. The combination of these elements is used to conceptualize location-based games.

The theoretical point of departure for the dissertation is Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception and Michael Apter’s theory on motivation (reversal theory). The phenomenology of perception contributes with a framework describing our experiences of being in the world and the creation of meaning. The theory on motivation defines what motivation consists of and how it relates to our actions. This theory has been combined with theories concerning play and play culture, digital media, (digital) games, (optimal) experiences, landscape architecture, everyday practices (related to walking in the city), and the existing theories on location-based games as well as pervasive games.

The methodological approach incorporates design-based research. It combines and aims at improving design, research, and practice concurrently. A design of an location-based game – Visions of Sara – has been created and implemented. It evolved out of the initial observations and participation in three location-based games (DJEEO Education, Land of Possibilities?, and Fruit Farmer), the review of the literature, and relevant theoretical models. After creating Visions of Sara, three more location-based games were played and they are included as part of the empirical data – Ghost Patrol, Spy in the City, and Foursquare. These seven games, interviews, and observations, along with my own experiences both playing and designing are included in the analysis of the relation between locations and location-based game; the ways in which players use them to create meaningful experiences; and of the prerequisites of a meaningful meeting between players and locations.

The dissertation contributes to the field of location-based game research by offering an enhanced understanding of location-based games, and location-based game player experiences, as well as providing an expanded vocabulary describing location-based game elements. In addition, the dissertation provides design knowledge concerning creating location-based games that uses certain emergent opportunities when combining location-aware technologies with game mechanics to make use of the six dimensions of location-based games and to involve the player’s body – i.e. make a meaningful meeting possible.

The practical contribution is my creation of the location-based game Visions of Sara. People continue to play this game in Odense more than two years after its launch, and DJEEO uses it as a showcase, enabling the company to sell similar location-based games.

Please feel free to download, read and distribute the dissertation: Location-based Games: From Screen to Streets

You can also buy (the price only covers printing it) a physical version of the dissertation from the university webshop.
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