announcements, game studies

I’m talking about Gamification in Bath (Fri 28th Oct)

Next Friday I’m talking at the Bath Gamification Network. Friday 28th October at 5pm.

Recent years have seen a rapid proliferation of mass-market consumer software that takes inspiration from video games. This is sometimes bundled up in the term ‘gamification’. However this word has become tightly intertwined with a specific flavour of instrumental marketing activity. In this talk I define what is meant by ‘gamification’ in a way that moves it on from this simple, surface, approach to a more engaged form of gameful design. In the process detailing some pre-history and current work that presents a sensitive and thoughtful approach to using games in everyday life.

It’s free and but they would like you to register.

The Innovation Centre
Carpenter House
Broad Quay
BA1 1UD Bath
United Kingdom
Friday, 28 October 2011 from 17:00 to 19:00

announcements, publications

My CHI 2011 papers

I put my CHI 2011 workshop papers online and updated  my publications page.

Player Types and Gamification

This started as a critique of the idea of player types in general and especially the mindless application of Bartle’s 4 types, especially in gamification.

This paper presents a brief history of the concept of player types starting with Bartles’s work on MUDs and continuing to more recent, empirical research. Player types are not a defined concept and any categorization of players or users needs to occur within the context of a particular application or domain. Play-personas are suggested as a useful tool that can be used to put player type research into practice as part of the design process of gamified systems.

Tactics, Rhythms and Social Game Ethnography

The idea of rhythms and tempos is something that I think is very useful when applied to digital gaming, and gaming in general. Though I don’t have a lot of time to go into it now.

Attention has been paid to the mechanics, economics and business aspects of Social Network Games, however very little research has been carried out on the players themselves. Why and how do people play these games? The games themselves are designed for partial attention situations and as interstitials in the everyday, yet there isn’t any detailed research into the quotidian of social gaming. In this paper I describe de Certeau’s concepts of strategies and tactics, and Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis. These are useful, sensitizing positions with which to carry out ethnographic research into the context and situations of Social Network Game play.

Workshop on Gamification: Using Game Design Elements in Non-Game Contexts

Finally the extended abstract for the gamification workshop I helped run.

“Gamification” is an informal umbrella term for the use of video game elements in non-gaming systems to improve user experience (UX) and user engagement. The recent introduction of ‘gamified’ applications to large audiences promises new additions to the existing rich and diverse research on the heuristics, design patterns and dynamics of games and the positive UX they provide. However, what is lacking for a next step forward is the integration of this precise diversity of research endeavors. Therefore, this workshop brings together practitioners and researchers to develop a shared understanding of existing approaches and findings around the gamification of information systems, and identify key synergies, opportunities, and questions for future research.

announcements, game studies, playing with reality

ISEA, Pervasive Media, Street Games and Hipsters

This year I’m going to ISEA in Istanbul. Though it is hectically cut short by going to DiGRA right beforehand. I’ve got two things going on. I’m presenting a paper entitled “Big Games and Hipsters: Cool Capital in Pervasive Games” and I’m quite excited to be considered to be commenting on the politics of gameplay.

Pervasive and big gamers will be compared and contrasted with the now infamous subcultural group known as Hipsters, showing that although they are quite different people there are many functional similarities. Artists, designers and taste-makers from both groups have similar backgrounds and social roles and are engaged in creating cultural capital and constructing markets in cool. Specific attention is given to the emergent aesthetics that are shared between these two groups. These being a tendency towards historic referencing, intertextuality and lo-fi, appropriative design strategies.

I’m also convening a panel on the practice and ecological value of pervasive media, with Jon Dovey and Constance Fleuriot of the Digital Cultures Research Centre and Tim Kindberg from the Pervasive Media Studio.

New, pervasive, ubiquitous and mobile technologies promise us an ever more connected world and the possibility to access ever more detailed information about context. Although these promises contain drastic changes to media and technology, they don’t engage with the necessary changes to the practices of media production, distribution, technology creation and the commercial and practical realities that could make these promises a reality. These will be drastically game changing; creating new business possibilities, whilst making others obsolete. These promises, and changes, will be critically addressed during this panel.

And I’m not finished with hipsters yet.

announcements, BT Residency, playing with reality

Blast Theory day 6 – Liminality

Hipsters have trapped me for the last few days as I worked on my paper for ISEA. So I missed two days of blog posts on liminality and anti-structure. The term “liminal” is taken directly from the Latin ‘limen’ for ‘a threshold’ and was first used in psychology and then picked up by Van Gennep. It is used to mean that one is on the very edge of two very different existential planes. First off the term liminal is heavily over-subscribed term that has drifted from the ‘scientific’ intentions of Van Gennep. Even when Turner came to play with it he also noted its over use and abuse. Although it is backtracking a bit, I came across this quote from Richard Schechner, the performance theorist today.

Even to say it in one word, ritual, is asking for trouble. Ritual has been so variously defined — as concept, praxis, process, ideology, yearning, religious experience, function — that it means very little because it can mean too much.

But between Van Gennep and Turner there was agreement on the use of the three part process of separation, margin and aggregation. These are rites of passage, or more appropriately rites of state change, as they mark the progress between official status’ or the passing of seasons. And the interesting thing that Turner points out through his experience, quite contrary to Rousseau, is that primitive tribes have a lot more official status’ than modern society. Rituals are inherently tied up in the social and the temporal. Having just read the first chapter of Dramas, Fields and Metaphors, I see more of Turner’s fascination with social structure and time as well as the relationships between events and experience. As he says, ritual comes from activity to correct social crises, not from performance. For him performance comes from ritual, and in his later career he goes on to say that all formal performance is also liminal/liminoid. The important aspect of the ritual is that it is what Turner calls “anti-structure”, which for him is not entirely the opposite of structure. Participants are betwixt and between. Rituals follow rules and formula, but are not those of the everyday. The participants cease to be part of structured society, they are outside of it. As part of that they revert to communitas rather than societas.

  1. The first phase comprises symbolic behaviour that signifies detachment from the regular fixed point in the social structure. Identity is broken down and blurred.
  2. In the intervening liminal period the characteristics of the ritual subject are ambiguous, and has few or none of the aspects of the previous or future state. They can and do partake of taboo activities and thoughts. The distance between the physical and imaginary is significantly less. Not only are the markers of identity blurred, but the sense of identity also breaks down. It is disorienting, but can also deliver new perspectives.
  3. In the third phase the ritual subject is returned to structured society in the new state.

Being liminal is likened to

  • death
  • being in the womb
  • invisibility
  • darkness
  • bisexuality
  • the wilderness
  • eclipses of sun or moon

Represented by/symbolism

  • disguised as monsters
  • wearing minimal clothing
  • possessing nothing
  • stripped of all status, property, insignia, secular clothing
  • indistinguishable
  • masks, face painting

Behaviour is normally

  • passive/humble
  • obey instructions
  • accept arbitrary punishment/decisions
  • trusting of other participants
announcements, BT Residency, playing with reality

Blast Theory residency day 2

For this residency project I’ll be using the work of Victor Turner. There are three broad, interrelated and interconnected aspects of his theory of Ritual and Liminality that I’m interested in.

  1. The Ritual Process: The three part, pre-liminal, liminal, post-liminal, cycle of ritual experience
  2. Communitas: The feeling of togetherness and solidarity during a ritual activity
  3. Liminal vs Liminoid: The relationship between necessary rituals in pre-industrial societies and elective liminal-like activities in industrialised society

These are ordered as the chronologically appeared, but have to be taken together as a way to analyse pervasive games. The three part ritual process itself originates with the french, formalist ethnographer and folklorist Arnold Van Gennep. Turner doesn’t really go out of his way to differentiate his use of the three part process from Van Gennep, and seems to use it straight out of Rites of Passage (1909). In one of his earlier books, The Ritual Process (1969), Turner describes his concept of Communitas, based on his observations of the Ndembu and analysis of other ethnographers work. Over a decade later, in From Ritual To Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (1982), he describes the liminal/liminoid distinction as he becomes more interested in performance studies and the developed world.

announcements, BT Residency, game studies, playing with reality

Blast Theory residency day 1

So here I am, sitting all by myself in the darkened Blast Theory studio, at a coffee table with all of the Day of the Figurines tiny little figures from The Goody Bullets set into it. It is a little like sitting over some lilliputian cryogenic facility, or maybe the B-Ark.

(Update: It was the table used for The Goody Bullets, not DotF. Goody Bullets was an SMS/figurine game made for the V&A Decode exhibition open late night)

Day of the Figurines cryogenic table

For the next month I will be working on a residency in the Blast Theory studio, producing a chapter in my PhD and hopefully a paper from that as well. This work will tie up with my ethnography of big and street games and provide a view on a very different type of game, experience or performance.

Here is an excerpt from my proposal that introduces what it is I intend to do here whilst here.

This is an academic residency, intended to engage with Blast Theory’s practice over an extended period. The most important thing for me is to gain access and insight into developmental processes, of both work in progress and finished pieces.

One of the theoretical influences on my PhD is Victor Turner’s book, The Ritual Process. At its heart is a three stage process, developed from the work of Van Gennep, of separation, margin and reaggregation. Although his early work focuses on ritual (liminal) experiences, in tribal societies, his later work turns to ritual-like (liminoid) experiences in modern culture.

Blast Theory’s work wonderfully mirrors this process and many pervasive games tend to follow this three part trajectory. Blast Theory’s heavily designed and scripted introductions, include practices seemingly lifted directly from tribal culture, such as stripping participants of their possessions, fit well with the separation phase, moving one from the everyday. These are followed by periods that involve confusion, questioning of norms and social sensitisation. Finally there is some form of coda or after effect that means the experience will resonate or provoke reflection to either the individual or a wider social group.

announcements, playing with reality

I’ve got a Blast Theory residency

This August, I’m doing a one month residency in Brighton with Blast Theory. In my opinion their pieces relate very well to Victor Turner’s Ritual Process and I intend to spend the time grilling them about their work and getting close to their creative practice. Through this I want to see how applicable the Turner anthropology is to the field of pervasive games. In the month there I’ll be writing a chapter of my PhD using their work as case studies and stepping stones.

It is really old news, but I’ve only got around to posting about it. But as the months are rolling by I’m getting increasingly excited about it again. This will be a great opportunity and the chance to do some concerted writing and PhD production.

announcements, mindblank

Bristol Open Data Hack Day

Today I’ve been helping out at the Bristol Open Data Hack Day. We’ve invaded Colston Hall and camped out across a couple of floors. It’s been sponsored by Delib and Connecting Bristol.

We had a couple of hacks around the Nick Clegg Your Freedom consultation data.

Oliver Humpage has been turning the Your Freedom data into Haiku’s and Limericks.

Jess and Richard have been creating prototypes for visualisation and word/content analysis, playing around with opencalais and finding out which words will get you good ratings.

The remainder focussed on Bristol City Council open data.

Thaigo and Steve from the Web Design course have been plotting shopping trolleys in rivers.

Chris Wallace and team have been working on mapping water quality data and opening up to annotation and amendment.


FinallyDaniel Lewis has been trying to connect House of Commons debate data with recent news. To see if the MPs actually talk about what is going on in the real world.

Issues raised from the day
Stuff raised at the end of the day

  • Need domain experts to advise
  • Want APIs and feeds rather than bulk data
  • Lack of semantic descriptions and relations
  • A need to know some more maths and stats to make better sense of the data
  • Data quality issues
    • Lack of precision
    • Lack of geo-located data
    • Much is really just statistics not raw data
    • Many misspellings or no controlled names
    • A lot of the data came as HTML
  • Good wiki needed to support/record the day
  • IRC is vital (needs the right ports open on the firewall to work)
  • 2 days were needed

But the overall feedback is that Colston Hall is certainly a great place to have it.


Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking

Wow. It was over year and a half ago that I committed myself to writing a chapter for this and now it is finally published. As always there is an excitingly random selection of pages available on google book search. I don’t recommend you run out and buy it. At a staggering 1000+ pages it is longer than a Neil Stephenson epic and the £300 price tag is also a little steep.

Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking

Press Release for:
Whitworth, B., & DeMoor, A. (Eds.). (2009). Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems. Hershey PA: Information Science Reference.

A state-of-the-art summary of knowledge in an evolving, multi-disciplinary field, distinctive in its depth and breadth of scholarship, variety of international authors, and combination of practical and theoretical views.

Socio-technical systems have both social and technical aspects. Examples include Wikipedia, e-mail, chat, text-messages, instant messages, social networks (Facebook), online learning (Moodle), job markets (Monster), blogs, twitter, social bookmarks (Digg), online multi-player games (World of Warcraft), online simulations (Second Life), bit-torrent media sharing, online voting, online news, reputation systems, recommender systems, collaborative writing, and many other forms. The socio-technical evolution has massively changed the Internet as we know it.

This book is a breakthrough. Not just social factors in technology settings, or the effect of technology on society, the Handbook of Socio-Technical Design goes a step further. It asks how social ideas can inspire new technology forms, and how technology can empower new social forms. While common approaches are social or technical, the socio-technical vision is that people and computers are more than people or computers. Social and technical are separate domains with different ideologies, but they must work together for higher performance synergies.

This book is multi-disciplinary. The socio-technical approach is not an easy path, as it needs people with both social and technical knowledge and skills. Yet it is the only way for society and technology to move forward successfully. A society that rejects technology will fall behind. A technology that ignores social values will run rampant. Only their combination can succeed.

This book is timely. The Internet was initially coded as a technical system. Today it is increasingly a social system. E-mail spam is what happens when technical systems ignore social needs – in this case the right to privacy. The socio-technical gap, between what computers do and what society wants, is why some argue we need a new Internet, as this one is “broken” (see
We need to replace current technical designs by socio-technical designs.

This book is important. In the socio-technical vision, social values must enclose technical power. Just as atom bomb technology made us choose world peace over mutually assured destruction (MAD), so social applications ask us to choose social good. The Internet can be for freedom or state control, can benefit millions or cheat them. Unless social values like privacy and democracy are explicit, technology cannot support them online, where “code is law”. Technology advances force us to choose our future, and this book is about making informed choices in the new global information society.