Gaming the City: Telephone City and Social Spaces of Transformation

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

In pervasive gaming, the city is transformed into a platform for public storytelling and play. In this paper I will address the potentialities and challenges inherent in devising a city-specific pervasive narrative. Play is the ultimate learning tool for humans, so much so that researchers see “play as essential not just to individual development, but to humanity’s unusual ability to inhabit, exploit and change the environment” (Dobbs). One of games’ most intoxicating aspects is their pervasive nature.

Pervasive games blend real world interaction with imaginative play. They may or may not be tied to a specific location, but they invade the player’s life. They have the ability through two-way interaction to change the nature of the world around us. A pervasive game might send you emails or ask you to take a photograph of an object or person in your environment and upload it to the game’s site. A pervasive game might make you feel paranoid as you begin to fear you cannot distinguish between game events and ‘real’ life. The game is real, but exists in a different semiotic domain from everyday life (Montola 10). Having much in common with dreams, science fiction, and film noir (where the world is familiar but the rules have changed), pervasive gaming is an ideal tool for engaging players in digital culture. Telephone City: A Mystery is an alternate reality game that I am designing for Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford. Brantford used to be the number three manufacturing city in Canada and is the place where Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Now ravaged by the tidal forces of globalization, Brantford is a city of obsolete technology, empty factories and haunted industrial sites.

The city functions as equal parts public space, stage, and “operating system” within the game as locals explore it and learn to transform themselves and their environment through social media narratives (de Waal). Starting from the assumption that game strategies are boundary objects, that is to say conceptual moments, acts or places that simultaneously inhabit and intersect social worlds, I will discuss my use of boundary objects as sites of transformation for the players. These social spaces are metaphorical places that function like the informational equivalent of pervasive gaming as they connect people simultaneously with the game through their smartphones and with other players through cooperative action. Phones are both the vehicle of delivery and the subject of the work as they meet in the middle in Telephone City: A Mystery. Phones act are a metaphor and a cardinal technology as they collaborate to transform players, local stories, andcity spaces.

Works Cited

- De Waal, Martijn. “Some notes on the design of pervasive games.” Mobile City: Mobile Media and Urban Design. Blog. (Accessed 13 Dec 2013). Web.
- Dobbs, David. “Playing for all kinds of possibilities.” New York Times Online. (22 April 2013). (Accessed 11 Dec 2013).
- Montola, Markus, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern, Eds. Pervasive Games: Theory and Design. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2009.

(Source: author's abstract)

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Alvaro Seica