Posted by: Montola | October 6, 2009

Review #7: White

William J. White is an associate professor of communication arts and sciences at the Altoona campus of the Pennsylvania State University, where he teaches courses in public speaking and mass media. He was visiting Norway in April, where I showed him our book manuscript. Judging by his review in Amazon, he liked what he saw, even recommending the book for university courses:

The first time I saw this book, it was in manuscript form on the laptop of one of the editors, next to whom I was sitting as a bus brought us to the airport from the a conference on live action roleplaying. I was immediately taken with the project: an attempt to catalog the variety of instances in which game-play has spilled out beyond the special “magic circle” of the gaming table, playground, or sports field and into “real life”: live-action Pac-Man on the streets of Manhattan, Killer on college campuses, even races on reality television.

The finished product comprises 13 case studies describing a different sort of “pervasive game.” Each case study is accompanied by a longer analytic essay, moving from the descriptive (what are pervasive games and where do they come from?) through the technical (how are pervasive games designed, run, and played?) to the philosophical (what are the ethical implications and aesthetic ramifications of pervasive games?). In order to make sense of the sprawling breadth of material that they have collected, the editors have divided the chapters into three parts, labeled “Theory,” “Design,” and “Society.” More importantly, they provide an analytic framework based on the idea that pervasive games are best understood as extending play spatially, temporally, or socially. In other words, pervasive games are those in which the game somehow intersects with or infringes upon ordinary life. “Pervasive games,” say the editors, “can take the pleasure of the game to ordinary life,” and the “immediacy and tangibility of ordinary life to the game.”

In spatial extension, the playing field is overlaid upon regular spaces: the whole world is the playground. Among the examples they present are the cases of the Manhattan apartment refurbished as an elaborate Myst-like puzzle palace (Mystery on Fifth Avenue), and a cellphone-enabled cat-and-mouse game in which players pretend to be heavily armed robot warriors roaming the streets of their home city (BotFighters).

In temporal extension, playtime spills out in everyday life. For example, one game in development allows players to “collect” Bluetooth identification signals emanating from devices around them as they commute, go shopping, and go through their daily routines. These signals can then be “identified” as different types of evanescent insects; the goal of the game is to amass the largest and most varied collection (Insectopia). In another example, participants in a live-action role-playing game (larp) played themselves in their daily lives as if possessed by the spirit of a dead revolutionary involved in a technomantic conspiracy (Momentum).

In social extension, outsiders or non-players are enrolled in the game in various ways. The editors discuss an enigmatic scavenger hunt in which players cannot be sure who around them is part of the game (Uncle Roy All Around You), and an art project at a Swedish university intended a poltergeist mystery for public consumption that wound up mainly being a mess for the janitors to clean up (Vem Gråter).

This book is an excellent starting point as an introduction to the “ludification of culture” that is attracting interest from scholars and observers of modern society; it belies easy pronouncements and prognostications about what games mean and what they portend. Its main value is in the taxonomy it provides for understanding the variety of forms and methods of pervasive gaming, but it also raises useful and interesting questions about the place of games, gaming, and gamers in Western culture. For example, the editors observe how many pervasive games are mediated by new communications technologies, and it is interesting to note the different ways in which such technologies are used: to enable coordination among players, to control the flow of events, and to “overlay” the game-space on top of the real world, for instance. It would be a good text for courses on game design, game studies, or the sociology of play, and it is a useful reference for game designers and scholars of gaming.

And 5/5 stars on the Amazon scale.

Earlier reviews: Fatland, Gerdes, Holter, Noyons, Pettersson, Harviainen.


  1. […] reviews: White, Fatland, Gerdes, Holter, Noyons, Pettersson, Harviainen. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: