Evaluating the promises of pervasive gaming

Pervasive Gaming in the Everyday World by Jegers, K. and Wiberg, M., Pervasive Computing, IEEE, 5 (1), pp. 78-85, 2006. The paper is a smart study that look at how the vision of pervasive gaming is becoming reality in the context of SupaFly, an everyday-world pervasive game. They claim that pervasive gaming might offer 3 promises: mobile, place-independent game play /integration between the physical and the virtual worlds /social interaction between players. In this study they wanted to evaluate whether these promises could be held.

It starts by saying that pervasive gaming examples (Uncle Roy, Human Pacman, Songs of the North) are valuable but some limitations remains:

One such limitation is that people play few of the existing pervasive games in their normal everyday life, which makes studying the games’ role and effect in these situations difficult. Such research is necessary to help commercial designers create successful pervasive games and to help identify and explore the issues arising when such computer gaming becomes situated in the everyday world.

In this paper, they try to go beyond that by studying SupaFly, a pervasive game developed by Daydream to evaluate how people perceive and play the game in normal, everyday settings.

Some results were quite unexpected especially about the anywhere/anytime issue of pervasive computing:

Considering the two subjects who stated that they played the game mostly at work, the picture becomes somewhat more problematic. Both subjects stated in the focus group interviews that they normally don’t play computer games at work but that they considered the SMS game activities in SupaFly as different from traditional computer game playing. (...) Those two subjects’ decision to play the game during what they classify as work time seems to run contrary to how people generally separate activities into work and recreation, pursued at separate times. This observation calls for further research considering pervasive gaming’s anytime, anywhere aspect to clarify to what extent pervasive games might challenge people’s conception of social contexts and related activities. (...) Analysis of the focus group data reveals that the game’s integration of the physical and virtual worlds was of limited importance to the players. (...) From our evaluation, we conclude that the implemented integration of the physical and the virtual, based on location of players and virtual objects, was insufficient to be a meaningful and enriching part of the game. (...) We noticed that the players seemed to use the game to facilitate existing social interaction in groups that they belonged to before they played the gamements and social behaviors of people in pervasive-gaming situations.

What is interesting is also the overall conclusion:

Although the threefold vision for pervasive gaming hardly became a reality for the users in our study, it still might be a good catalyst for developing ideas for future pervasive-gaming platforms.

Which led them to refine their research agenda with new questions (that they will address through a longitudinal ethnographical study):

  • In what situations do people choose to enter the game?
  • Do people play alone or when they get together?
  • Is there any learning effect (for example, do people internalize the SMS commands over time)?
  • Does the cost of sending SMS messages create a barrier to long-term playing of the game?

Why do I blog this? I like this kind of empirical research of pervasive games a lot (even though my feeling is that we can go way beyond using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods), The results and the overall conclusion are very pertinent and make us rethink what pervasive/mobile games are presented by companies and labs: things are not that simple!