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.

The Art of Surveillance in Pervasive Gaming

Here’s the presentation from the Paying Attention Conference back in September. Sam Kinsley live-blogged the conference and has a short summary summary of the talk itself. I intend on developing some of this and it will eventually mutate into a more complete paper, as well as probably a section of the PhD.

It is much better to look at it full size on the prezi site.

Dixon says he is toying with the concept of the art of surveillance in relation to pervasive gaming as an aesthetic of surveillance within pervasive gaming. Dixon describes pervasive games as NOT computer games, they mix the game world with the physical world, and they expand the social, temporal and spatial. There are ways in which established forms of limit are pushed against, not least in the uncertainties that come from not knowing when a game may finish, who are players and other questions. There are, according to Dixon ‘genres’ of pervasive games:

    locative games
    alternate reality games
    Big games – in which the technology is taken out
    urban/ smart/ street games

One of the things that pervasive games do is play within contemporary technicities of pervasive computing. They have underlying models such as puzzle quests, treasure hunts etc. Dixon gives the example of a game called ‘momentum’. What comes out of looking at these games are some general themes and motifs and common practices and techniques. In many cases, pervasive games are played out either as a ghost stories or conspiracy theories. Within these, associated visual vernaculars are employed to provide an aesthetic language via which we can be familiar with the game message/play. Dixon illustrates the point by drawing upon the game ‘Conspiracy for Good’.

In terms of the tools employed, Dixon argues that many of the technologies employed in the playing of pervasive games are derived from military pruposes, such as GPS, QR codes and cameras. Many kinds of surveillance practices employed in these games are derived from the forms of tool being used. These can be split into two types – 20th century practices, such as control rooms, i.e. through Blast Theory’s ‘Day of the Figurines’, the figure of a ‘secret police’ – with a cohort of people who are out of sight yet watching you, and the logging of your activities in-game. New, or 21st century, surveillance themes are, according to Dixon: self-reporting, for example in systems such as Foursquare whereby users voluntarily report their location, crowd-sourced observation, which rely on many people coordinating themselves, artificial identity construction, and ‘dataveillance’, by tracking large quantities of personal data.

Finally, Dixon concludes with some observations: pervasive games employ both tools and practices that carry cultural significances. One of the most interesting things for Dixon is a switching from paranoia to ‘pronoia’ the flip from surveillance being ‘evil’ to it being helpful or fun. There is a sense in which a ‘trust in the system’ is encouraged through pervasive games which Dixon argues mirrors the ways in which we ‘trust’ companies such as Google with personal data. For Dixon, these games sit unevenly between art, experience and experiment. He argues that there needs to be more critical reflection on how we situate the cultural significance on pervasive games.