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

game studies, playing with reality, presentations, publications

Big Games and Hipsters

Here’s a copy of the paper I presented at ISEA in Istanbul. Presentation below.

Pervasive and street gamers are compared and contrasted with the infamous subculture known as hipsters, showing that although they are quite different social groups their aesthetics operate in similar ways. Specific attention is given to the emergent, socially relative nature of these aesthetics and the operation of ‘cool’ cultural capital. These findings are based on ethnographic field work carried out in 2010 at the Come Out and Play festival.


BT Residency, game studies, playing with reality

Ju Row Farr on Can You See Me Now?

Can You See Me Now? gets a lot of coverage and in the literature comes across as a, if not the, seminal pervasive game. It is played in the city, purposely mixes realities and uses devices with GPS technology, ticking all the boxes for this type of gameplay. I’m only going to pull out some of my relevant notes as it is covered very well in many academic papers and books.

Can You See Me Now? is a game that happens simultaneously online and on the streets. Players from anywhere in the world can play online in a virtual city against members of Blast Theory. Tracked by satellites, Blast Theory’s runners appear online next to your player on a map of the city. On the streets, handheld computers showing the positions of online players guide the runners in tracking you down.

  • This is their gamiest piece [by far]
  • It was a chase game and they understood and wanted to bring the affective elements from chasing into this mixed reality technical system, such as the feeling of being shouted at, people breathing down your neck, the sound of running footsteps behind you, hiding and jumping out. [Between Ritual Process (1969) and Drama, Fields Metaphors (1974), it seems that Turner has started to pick up an understanding of the affect of ritual, though doesn’t develop it]
  • This is important as how do you keep someone engaged in the 3D world without some sort of contact with the physical players. How do you get someone involved in the virtual world
  • When designing the virtual world they ask themselves is this world in the past, the present or the future. This decision is important to how the piece functions. For example this ties in with the piece asking you for the name of someone who you haven’t seen for a while.
  • The players (who are all in the virtual world) would have to work together to catch the runners.
  • Used Walkie-Talkies for the specific aesthetic that they bring and that they are seemingly lo-tech solution [Same reason I used them for RoboRacers, they have a lovely textural quality about them]
  • Purposefully a non-naturalistic 3D world. Very obviously alternate. Very obviously fictional, not an attempt at a copy of the real world.
  • Much emergent behaviour occurred in the 3D world, peple did things that were unexpected. Patterns emerged that were different from offline. Some people used it like a chat room, there were fans/stalkers/followers who appeared in each playing.
  • The avatars in the 3D world are all identical, though one type for runners and one type for players. [stripping of identity in liminal spaces]
  • The runners ended up in what is basically a paramilitary look. They needed them to feel like a team, needed a uniform. No logos. To feel purposeful and competent needed to be dressed purposeful and confident. [Again a removal/replacement of identity. Uniforms like this put the individual in a liminal space. It is interesting that they were black as this also symbolises death, a state in which ritual participants are often identified as]
  • The runners had all their garb laid out on tables gridded with tape and would be dressed and geared up before going out into the streets to run. [the description of this is so reminiscent of ritual preparation and formalised actions in taking on the symbols of the ritual, the ritual garb.]
  • The runners became part of a group, looking out for each other. The situations were on busy streets, dangerous, tiring, stressful. [communitas and the situations that promote communitas]
  • In different countries the reactions to the runners was very different. In Japan they gathered followings who would run around with them. [although the garb looks somewhat scary in western culture, maybe it has different connotations in the east]
  • Want the players to be angry and playful at the same time.

Again throughout I heard very detailed descriptions of the procedures of the piece from end to end. The level of recollection of the details from work nearly a decade old is quite surprising and I believe shows the level of care paid to the little elements and how these contribute to the work.

Can You See Me Now? Tokyo from Blast Theory on Vimeo.


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.

BT Residency, game studies, playing with reality

Blast Theory day 4 – Games = Liminal?

At the intersection between pervasive and games, where does the ritual process lie? Which bit of pervasive or games owns the ritual?

This morning after a bit of Bikram I was toying with how ritual works with things like locative media and soundwalks. These change the player/audience’s perception of the environment, and the aesthetic is very liminal. This matches nicely with some of the insights out of Quentin Steven’s book, The Ludic City, where he looks at non-instrumental, undesigned and playful uses of urban space. Things such as the way skateboarding or rollerblading opens you up to a new way of looking at the city, much more aware of gradient, surfaces, different dangers and pleasures.

It also came up in discussions today about selecting which BT pieces to analyse through my emerging framework. Most of the game-like work appears less relevant, whereas their other work seems to have elements that raise better questions for ritual, communitas and liminoid.

The classic view in game studies – if a decade or so of history can lay down enough time to have classical period – comes from Huizinga, that ritual is play and vice versa. Huizinga says exactly that and I’ve found some other papers saying just that too. A quick search and review of material doesn’t really show anyone who has taken a serious approach to analysising/formalising/validating that assumption. If there is any out there I would love to be pointed at it.

Personally I’m beginning to suspect that Huizinga is wrong in this case. There are relationships, but certainly no equality. Ritual is performative, but they aren’t identical or equal concepts. Play is also performative, but again the ideas are not identical. And it is fallacious to then equate play with ritual even if they are both performance based. For Turner, ritual, play and theatrical performance all come out of the negotiation of social structure and the necessity for that to be broken at various points.

Which leads me to say, that based on my observations of pervasive experiences, games and pervasive games over the last few years, that the interesting area for me to apply Turner’s version of the ritual process to, is the pervasive experience (which may or may not be games). Whereas one might have a liminoid experience playing a game, for some other reason than the game, games themselves ≠ liminal.

BT Residency, game studies, playing with reality

Blast Theory day 3 – Huizinga

In game studies returning to Huizinga has a slightly religious quality about it. Like going back to the source, or font of wisdom. Quoting from Huizinga is a little like quoting from scripture, his work has that place in the discipline and authors expect it to have the force of gospel. It is also like scripture in that there is a poetry to it and everyone gets their own thing out of it. My turn.

Now in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primaeval soil of play. (Huizinga, 1949, p5)

In Homo Ludens, he charts the parallels between ritual and play. He shows that many of the key formal characteristics are similar and quite definitely says that ritual comes out of play. If play is to be taken as performance and mimicry then that goes against what Turner says in the Anthropology of Experience, in that ritual doesn’t come out of performance, but out of redressive social activity. Which leads on to Chapter 3 of Homo Ludens, where Huizinga discusses play in its function to explore and construct social structures. This works nicely with Turner’s take on ritual being a place to break down social structure and experience relations through the anti-structure of communitas.

Huizinga’s first characteristic of play is that it is free and voluntary. Which makes it unlike a rite of passage according to Turner. Play becomes liminoid rather than liminal in that there is a choice as to whether you do it or not.

His second characteristic of play is that it is outside “ordinary” life in its character, duration and location. This is exactly the liminal aspect that rituals achieve and so there is functional similarity here.

Play creates order and there are rules to play by. Having a three year old makes me very aware that so called paidia, or free play, has very definite and unbreakable rules. Again rituals have very set, symbolic structures that give them power and practicality. Turner’s anti-structure is intended to be the set of rules that function inside liminal processes, not just the negation of structure.

Finally play has no material interest, or the achievement inside a game does not carry over into the real world. This is always a hotly debated aspect of games, and has largely been debunked. Ritual by its very nature causes a real world change in the participant(s). They go from one life stage to another, experience crises or cross the boundaries between seasons. The effects of ritual is very closely tied into the real world. However liminoid experiences are those that are only expected to make a change in the individuals perceptions and not have a wider social-structural effect.

In Homo Ludens, Huizinga hit on some interesting similarities, but was too quick to jump in to equating play and ritual as having similar social functions. Through Turner’s communitas, anti-structure and liminoid distinctions the similarities and differences can be discussed in a more nuanced way. Turner never mentions Huizinga, but I would be surprised if he had not encountered the work, and I would be interested in knowing his opinions.