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December 27, 2006

"Big games" and environmental space


The Porous Border Between the Real and the Mediated

Parsing tons of papers, articles, documents and pdf that I accumulated in the last few months, I ran across this article in Vodafone’s Receiver: Big Games and the porous border between the real and the mediated by Frank Lantz.

In this short piece, the author describes what he means by “big games”, i.e. “Big Games are human-powered software for cities, life-size collaborative hallucinations, and serious fun“. Some excerpts I find pertinent regarding my research:

Imaginary places, constructed from code, are now being represented not just as pixel grid windows into synthetic 3D environments, but mapped onto the actual 3D environments in which we live. Called “Big Games”, these large-scale, real-world games occupy urban streets and other public spaces and combine the richness, complexity, and procedural depth of digital media with physical activity and face-to-face social interaction.

He then describes games such as ConqWest, Mogi Mogi, PacManhattan, Superstar, Can You See Me Now, Uncle Roy, Botfighters… And describes how the urge to use spatial environment as a playful space did not come out from the blue: children’s neighborhood games (like Red Rover, hide and go seek, and kickball or Capture the Flag), Assassin/Killer game, skateboarding and Parkour, location-based art activities of the late 20th century, Live action role-playing. And those activities share some common purposes:

a desire to push game experiences beyond traditional boundaries of time and space. But there is another, complementary desire within conventional computer and videogames themselves. Over the last 10 or 15 years, these games have developed a profound obsession with play dynamics of 3D spaces, architecture, and environments. (…) In some ways, Big Games are a natural extension of this obsession with environmental exploration and social dynamics as gameplay subjects.

The author hence describes how mobile and ubiquitous computing technologies are a catalyst for big games creation. And finally, his thought about spatial practices are very interesting:

There is no longer a clear, well-defined boundary between the virtual spaces and interactive systems of our digital experience and the concrete, tangible aspects of our physical experience. Even as high-resolution computer graphics make the simulated worlds inside our computers more realistic, the actual world outside our computers is behaving more and more like data.
Regardless of the technology with which they are implemented, Big Games reflect a change in perspective brought about by mobile, pervasive, and ubiquitous technologies. Even Big Games that use chalk on sidewalks to make a citywide puzzle, or appropriate the archaic technology of payphones to make a game of urban tactics, are made possible by a shift in how we perceive our environment brought about by the new relationship between space and computing. (…) Whatever else they are, these games are primarily about connecting people – a way to reclaim public space as a site for a new kind of shared experience.

Why do blog this? because it gives a very good summary of “big games”, which I am partly interested in my research (I use big games to study how people collaborate and use location-awareness features). On a different note, it seems that in the location-based/geowankin scene, the term “big” now receives more and more interest. See the “big here challenge” or how Fabien describes it (or even Matt Jone’s video!).

Finally, what the author stress in his conclusion (big games to reclaim public space), is exactly something Mauro and I wrote about three years ago in the following paper: To Live or To Master the city: the citizen dilemma or in this short pdf report I dropped on the web: Augmenting Guy Debord’s Dérive: Sustaining the Urban Change with Information Technology. The report only focuses on the use of LBS to foster new public space practices. [blogged by Nicolas on Pasta and Vinegar]

Posted by jo at December 27, 2006 07:27 PM