Larry Hosken: New: Book Report: Pervasive Games (Theory and Design)

Several months ago, I ran into a little post from a blog called "Pervasive Games". The blog post was interesting, so I wrote a little blog post about that, as one does. But I didn't really notice that the blog itself was so interesting. After all, I "knew" that pervasive games were annoying events like "I Love Bees", not the kind of games I play. I was wrong, course. Fortunately, Skott at Puzzalot browsed the Pervasive Games blog and paid attention. He noticed that they wrote about many games: The Game and LARPs and ARGs and... And they were writing a book. He blogged about that, so I knew to pay attention to those Pervasive Games people. So I read their book, and it's about a wide variety of games and I'm darned glad I read it: Pervasive Games.

Careful, it's a tough book to get through. Academic folks wrote it. I think they tried to make it readable, and I appreciated that. You run into sentences like "One way of structuring tiered playership is using a layered onion model with outer and inner modes of participation." But since some parts of the book are quite readable, you understand that these people are trying. It's more than you can say for most academics.

So... if a non-pervasive game is a board game played by a few people in your kitchen or a sport played by a handful of players on a court, what's a pervasive game? It might be played in a bigger space—a college campus, a district, a city. Maybe it's played on the internet, from anywhere. Maybe it's played in a bigger time range. Those Farmville crops take a while to grow. Maybe it's played with more people—maybe existing friends; or maybe you expect communities to form to crack a mystery.

They talk about an interesting effect of these games as they "ooze" out into real life—they can make "real life" more boring as it overlaps with the game. E.g., if you're playing an "assassin" game, you're always experiencing that intense paranoia because you never know when someone is stalking you. People in bay area treasure-huntish games have pointed out that they sometimes try to talk to agents of Game Control, only to find out they've instead accosted civilians... who then want to find out more about the game.

They talk about cultural influences that have melanged together to form Pervasive Games. I skimmed that part. Yeah, sure, acting, RPGs, LARPs, kids' games on the street a la stickbal... all that. I'm not so interested in the catalog of cultural themes. But the specific games, those are interesting This book had pieces of history that interested me: they had quick essays describing several past pervasive games. Those were darned nice.

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