Posted by: Montola | July 29, 2010

Invisible Masterpieces?

In his essay in Pervasive Games, Frank Lantz talks about masterpieces and pervasive games: Where is the Citizen Kane of pervasive gaming? Washington Post gave one answer in Pearls Before Breakfast: They had the violin virtuoso Joshua Bell play on a Washington D.C. metro station.

In preparing for this event, editors at The Post Magazine discussed how to deal with likely outcomes. The most widely held assumption was that there could well be a problem with crowd control: In a demographic as sophisticated as Washington, the thinking went, several people would surely recognize Bell. Nervous “what-if” scenarios abounded. As people gathered, what if others stopped just to see what the attraction was? Word would spread through the crowd. Cameras would flash. More people flock to the scene; rush-hour pedestrian traffic backs up; tempers flare; the National Guard is called; tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.

As it happens, exactly one person recognized Bell, and she didn’t arrive until near the very end.

As pervasive games are ephemeral, invisible, selective of their audience and require a lot of literacy, who would even notice a masterpiece?

This is certainly topical, considering that Conspiracy for Good used street musicians as gameplay elements (3:35) just last weekend. I wasn’t there, but I assume that non-players had as much trouble appreciating them as Washington commuters had enjoying Bell’s performance.

Conspiracy for Good had one solution to the problem of invisibility, though: How about an all-singing, all-dancing bollywood performance? A glimpse here (0:48):

Obviously, a bollywood number doesn’t turn a game into a masterpiece, but Bell’s experience gives food for thought: What’s the point if no-one notices? Extensive film documentation in the style of Conspiracy for Good — and The Amazing Race — is one solution, but it also poses a new question: Who is the true audience, the player or the spectator?

PS. Washington Post also had a very good methodology for catching the unawares:

Picarello was stopped by a reporter after he left the building, and was asked for his phone number. Like everyone, he was told only that this was to be an article about commuting. When he was called later in the day, like everyone else, he was first asked if anything unusual had happened to him on his trip into work. Of the more than 40 people contacted, Picarello was the only one who immediately mentioned the violinist.

That’s my new number one favourite method.

I am currently employed by Nokia Research Center, and conduct research on Conspiracy for Good.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gary Hayes, Jonathan Belisle. Jonathan Belisle said: RT @GaryPHayes: Invisible Masterpieces? "Where is the Citizen Kane of pervasive gaming? " From "Conspiracy for Good … […]

  2. […] Invisible Masterpieces? « Pervasive Games: Theory as well as Design […]

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