Posted by: Montola | July 7, 2010

Could I Get 5 Minutes, Please?

This has little to do with the topic of our blog, but, since I’m spamming everywhere I can, you are hereby invited to participate in a research. We are studying playful products and experiences at Nokia Research Center, and one task in that is creating evaluation tools for such experiences.

Currently, I’m collecting quantitative data through a survey, which takes you only five minutes to fill in. We are comparing a number of products and experiences, including Foursquare, Google Earth, Nokia Sports Tracker and geocaching from the more pervasive side. Others range from The Sims 3 to Wii Fit.

Thank you for help!

Thank you everyone — link fixed.

Posted by: Montola | July 5, 2010

Review 12: Pettersson, Revisited

Juhana Pettersson, who already reviewed Pervasive Games at Amazon earlier, is an editor of a leftist, Finnish, culture magazine Kulttuurivihkot. He edited a special issue on games and culture, writing a longer review of the book there.

He first discusses pervasive games in general, and our takes on them. As the author of the Roolipelimanifesti book on artistic potential of role-playing games, he is especially excited by the more radical and subversive  games.

Briefly put, he recommends the last third of the book for the readers of Kulttuurivihkot: He likes the discussions on ethics, media culture and even marketing. The largest merit of the book is in making the largely unknown phenomenon clearly understandable, which is accomplished especially through the polyphonic discussion on case examples.

Or, the same in google-translateable original Finnish:

Teoksen alun pelien teoriaa käsittelevä luku on aiheeseen tottumattomalle rankkaa kamaa, ja design-luvut kiinnostanevat eniten niitä, jotka pelejä tekevät. Pelialan kulttuuri-ilmiöistä laajemmin kiinnostuneen lukijan kannalta kirja on omimmillaan lopussa, jossa käsitellään pervasiivisten pelien etiikkaa (onko oikein sotkea peliin mukaan sivullisia?), yhteiskunnallista taustaa ja jopa markkinointia. Pervasiivisen pelin markkinointia käsittelevä luku tiivistääkin aiheen sisäiset ongelmat melkein vahingossa. Miten myydä tuotetta, jota kuluttaja ei ymmärrä?

Kirjan suurin saavutus on tehdä aiheesta selkeästi hahmotettava. Lukijalle syntyy vaikutelma, että pelien saralla tehdään tosi hienoja projekteja, joista hän ei aiemmin tiennyt mitään.

“If you want to understand the full potential of pervasive games”, he concludes, “you should start by googling up Momentum and then read this book”.

Earlier reviews: Goncalves, Hosken, Chong, Hook, White, Fatland, Gerdes, Holter, Noyons, Pettersson, Harviainen.

Posted by: Stenros | June 29, 2010

Pervasive Books: Pattern Recognition

I have been reading fiction. I rarely have time for that; usually I only muddle through academic stuff and when I need to relax I want something clearly different, like comic book, not prose. But I’m on vacation now and just completed William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. It’s from 2003 and deals with what is, essentially, a pervasive game.

Reading this book has been strange. It is like a historical novel about all the stuff I was immersed in two years ago. It is all about pervasive games, pronoia, paranoia, the line between real and fiction, authenticity and advertising. It deals with a community, a hive mind, trying to solve a web mystery, much like the early ARGs. The protagonist’s mother is a believer in EVP, something that Momentum and Där vi föll were based around. It discusses apophenia, something Neil Dansey wrote about on his way from ambient games to internal validation. The book was published in 2003, after The Beast had concluded and The Majestic aborted, but before ARGs were something that people really knew about outside the hard core followers.

I quite enjoyed the book and found myself nodding and smiling a number of times while reading it. However, I only marked one passage in the book. In it the protagonist, a coolhunter (of course, it being 2003) named Cayce, is talking with a beautiful young woman who does subliminal, viral marketing in London:

“[Y]ou are in a bar, having a drink, and someone beside you starts a conversation. Someone you might fancy the look of. All very pleasant, and then you are chatting along, and she, or he, we have men as well, mentions this great new streetware label, or this brillinat little film they’ve seen. nothing like a pitch, you understand, just a brief favorable mention. And you know what you do? This is what I can’t bloody stand about it: Do you know what you do?
“No,” Cayce says.
“You say you like it too! You lie! At first I thought it was only men who’d do that, but women do it as well! They lie!”
Cayce has heard about this kind of advertising, in New York, but has never run across anyone who’s actually been involved in it. “And then they take it away with them,” she suggests, “this favorable mention, associated with an attractive member of the opposite sex. One who’s shown some slight degree of interest inthem, whom they’ve lied to in an attempt to favorably impress.”
“But it is starting to do something to me. I’ll be out on my own, with friends, say, not working, and I’ll meet someone, and we’ll be talking, and they’ll mention something.”
“Something they like. A film. A designer. And something in me stops.” She looks at Cayce. “Do you se what I mean?”
“I think so.”
“I’m devaluing something. In others. In myself. And I’m starting to distrust the most casual exchange.”

(William Gibson, 2003, Pattern Recognition, 86-87)

This shard of dialogue addresses the ethics of pervasive play. It reminds me of what larpwright, artist and journalist Juhana Pettersson said about the mock demonstration at the end of Momentum. Pettersson, who is usually a very progressive and anything-goes kind of guy, found himself being critical of staging demonstartions as part of a game. If people were to find out that it was staged just for fun, it may start to undermine street demonstartions as a form of protest. If people can think of them as possibly play, they can then not take them seriously – and an important channel for societal dialogue is devalued.

All of this ties into the blurring of the line between fact and fiction. It is interesting to note that even Gibson longs for the real. The mystery in the book, once solved, turns out to be something real and authentic, not just a game, play or – which would be worst – marketing.

I have not read as much fiction that deals with pervasive play as I should. It just doesn’t seem as important as research articles, white papers and the like – even if it sometimes communicates ideas much more clearly and eloquently.

Any suggestions for further light summer reading?

Posted by: Stenros | June 28, 2010

Recent Talks

Two of the presentations we gave this spring are now available online. The first one is a 100 minute lecture we gave at IT University of Copenhagen. It is titled Strange (Ambiguous, Embodied, Ephemeral, Uncommercial, Critical) Games and in it we look at pervasive games and larps and see what lessons these weird and wonderful games might offer game designers in general. It starts slowly (it takes us 20 minutes to stop stuttering), but the latter half is okay.

The second one is from Nordic Larp Talks. We were supposed to deliver the presentation live in Stockholm, but Eyjafjallajökull prevented that. Instead we recorded the 20 minute talk (against an inspiring white wall) and send that. It doesn’t really discuss pervasive games, but live action role-playing of the Nordic variety. This is the subject of out forthcoming book.

The embedding of the video doesn’t work from that sime, so you’ll have to click through to the site.

Posted by: Montola | June 23, 2010

Review #11: Goncalves

N. Goncalves from Portugal reviews Pervasive Games: Theory and Design in Amazon UK, as follows:

Pervasive games are very new, and by their own pervasive nature, difficult to study in an organized manner. However the authors did a good job covering many topics, from the social implications to the salient features of pervasive games and even marketing of these games. The book stays clear from technologies, which I believe was a good decision. Although I bought the book wanting also to know more about technology used in pervasive games, focusing on the technological aspects would greatly reduce the scope and value of the book. Another good aspect of the book is that it presents several case studies of actual pervasive games.

The only negative aspect I can point to is that the authors focused mainly on elaborate role playing game styles, which are very expensive to organize and are not for the general public.

Overall the book provides a good starting point for those interested in pervasive games and gives some interesting pieces of advice based on the authors experience in organizing, and playing, this type of games.

On the Amazon scale, we get 4/5 stars.

Also, we learned that the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds will publish an academic review of Pervasive Games.  Very much looking forward to that.

Earlier reviews: Hosken, Chong, Hook, White, Fatland, Gerdes, Holter, Noyons, Pettersson, Harviainen.

Posted by: Montola | June 21, 2010

Toward a Ludic Architecture

Some more light summer reading. Toward a Ludic Architecture: The Space of Play and Games by Steffen P. Walz: basically an edited and revised version of his doctoral dissertation. Here’s what the book tells about itself:

Whether we think of a board game, an athletic competition in a stadium, a videogame, playful social networking on the World Wide Web, an Alternate Reality Game, a location-based mobile game, or any combination thereof: Ludic activities are, have, and take place in or at, spaces.

Toward a Ludic Architecture is a pioneering publication, architecturally framing play and games as human practices in and of space. Filling the gap in literature, Steffen P. Walz considers game design theory and practice alongside architectural theory and practice, asking: how are play and games architected? What kind of architecture do they produce and in what way does architecture program play and games? What kind of architecture could be produced by playing and gameplaying?

Toward a Ludic Architecture is a must-read for analyzing and designing play and games from an architectural standpoint. Such a contribution is particularly applicable in an era when games extend into physical, designed space that is increasingly permeated by devices, sensors, and information networks, allowing for rules and fictions to superimpose our everyday environments. Including a maze-like, episodic, and critical discussion of interweaving “play-grounds,” Toward a Ludic Architecture is a playful look at the conceptual space of play and games.

I still don’t have time to read pervasive games stuff at the very moment, but the book looks really, really thorough. Especially the beef section on archaeology of ludic architectures that analyzes some 35 kinds of playgrounds — ranging from campuses to outer space — looks intriguing. Certainly a discussion long overdue.

As a personal note, I’m happy to see that some things from the Nordic larp books have made their way to the bibliography as well.

Published by ETC-Press, the book is available online for free — but I recommend either downloading a free pdf or buying a paperback from

Steffen P. Walz coauthored the REXplorer case for Pervasive Games.

Posted by: Montola | June 16, 2010

Transmedia Practice

Christy Dena’s long-awaited PhD is out on the open, in the internets, about alternate reality games, pervasive games and other transmedia practices. After a quick browse, it looks like a worthy read, but I’ll spend real time with it when I’m less pressed by the payjob.

In the past few years there have been a number of theories emerge in media, film, television, narrative and game studies that detail the rise of what has been variously described as transmedia, cross-media and distributed phenomena. Fundamentally, the phenomenon involves the employment of multiple media platforms for expressing a fictional world. To date, theorists have focused on this phenomenon in mass entertainment, independent arts or gaming; and so, consequently the global, transartistic and transhistorical nature of the phenomenon has remained somewhat unrecognised. Theorists have also predominantly defined it according to end-point characteristics—such as the “expansion” trait (a story continues across media). This has resulted in the phenomenon being obscured amongst similar phenomena. Therefore, rather than investigate the phenomenon as it occurs in isolated artistic sectors and with an end-point characteristic, this thesis investigates all of these emergences through the lens of transmedia practice. That is, this thesis investigates the nature of transmedia practice in general, according to the way practitioners conceive and design a fictional world to be expressed across distinct media and environments.

Definitely an interesting piece. I feel a little resentment towards all monography writers, for hiding their gems until they are ready to blast you with their full 374 pages of light summer reading… But, I’m confident that this one is totally worth the wait.

Among other things, Christy is a bit critical of the focus of the expansion model of used in Pervasive Games. We hope she’ll tell a bit more about that critique in a guest post she has promised to write us!

Posted by: Montola | June 11, 2010

You Suck at Transmedia

We had an interesting discussion on some mailing lists about the lack of self-criticism in the ARG, pervasive game and transmedia storytelling scenes. Christy Dena, who has more energy than the most of us, fired up a website to address the issue: You Suck at Transmedia.

How do you/we/us stop sucking at transmedia? Well, this site is a step in that direction. This site welcomes contributions that really do aim to progress the state of the art. Here we can discuss the consequences of transmedia design, production and execution decisions.

In short, this site will cover transmedia decisions that never, sometimes, and always work.

Of course, being open and honest about failures — in processes, designs and end results — is a personal risk. It’s an investment from every designer, producer and researcher to acknowledge that “We did X, and man it sucked”. So, to deflate hype without anyone taking all the hit alone, all enthusiasts need to chip in with post-mortems.

There’s something I really appreciate in the people of The Company P. We’ve openly criticized many of their pieces in research papers over the years — Prosopopeia, Vem gråter, Momentum, Sanningen om Marika — and yet they come back, wishing us to conduct more research on their work. That’s because despite our merciless criticisms, honestly, we are in love with their work: Without those games Pervasive Games would have missed a lot of points.

I hope that You Suck at Transmedia will find the culture of bashing with love.

Posted by: Stenros | June 8, 2010


There is a new documentary, Playmakers,  on play in public space. And it features some of the usual suspects of pervasive games. The documentary goes through the standard stuff about how liberating play is, how being silly in the public space is great, and how theatre is leaving the theatre building. At the same time it follows two game designers playtesting and developing their game. The film is a great intro to the subject – and you can watch it online.

Playmakers, a 35 minute documentary, is the culmination of a six month project following the progress of Hide&Seek game designers Alex Fleetwood and Holly Gramazio through the development of a new game.

Over the last 50 years play has become an increasingly private activity. Now it is bursting back onto our streets. playmakers explores the emerging area of pervasive games it examines the implications of reclaiming play into the public domain and shows the possibilities offered by new technologies.

Posted by: Stenros | June 7, 2010

Year in Review

The blog has now been in operation for 16 months and the book Pervasive Games has been out for a year. When we started this blog we decided that we would keep it going for a year. We have done that and though our pace has slowed down considerably, we are still here.

After a year I think we are entitled to one meta-post. We, of course, go nuts over statistics. Our most popular entries are the ones that somehow tie into popular culture. The posting about pervasive games in films (I, II, III, IV) have always been popular, as have our commentaries of ongoing controversies (Anna Odell, Invoke, Conspiracy for Good). The ones I’m particularly happy made the top ten are my additional notes on the history of treasure hunts and our course reader.

Of course, this is the internet and by far our most visited entry is the throw-away joke that mentions “yo dawg” (those two words bring in four times as many people as the different variations of the words ‘pervasive’ and ‘game’).

Seems like Xzibit is the face of pervasive games.

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