The Pervasive Interface; Tracing the Magic Circle

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Walking the Line: The Interface in Limbo Investigating the Interface in Pervasive Games Eva Nieuwdorp, graduate student Utrecht University ** Changing Views: Worlds in Play ** June 16-20, 2005 Vancouver BC, Canada Paper proposal Categories Theoretical Perspectives: Redefining the concept of the interface in formal digital game theory; by researching the existing discourse surrounding interface theory, the applicability of this term to the area of digital games will be tested by looking at the status of the interface in pervasive gaming. Identity in Gaming: The identity of the pervasive game itself, existing both on, and because of, the thin boundary between fantasy and reality, play and game, as constructed both in the physical world and in the imagination of the player. Keywords: pervasive games, ubiquitous computing, exploration, fantasy, reality, interfaces, borders, human/computer interaction, player/game interaction. Abstract Pervasive games are steadily emerging as a new genre in the field of digital games. Unlike other games, the mobile nature of the pervasive game is unique in its ambivalent wavering between fantasy and reality when played. In this research, I will argue that it is exactly this ambivalence that is at the core of the player experience and indeed the construction of the game world itself. Set against the backdrop of the physical reality of everyday life, the thin line between the evident árealá world and the institutionalised fantasy of the game becomes the crux to which the pervasive game owes its existence; the pervasive game can therefore be viewed as a quintessentially and structurally interdisciplinary concept, interweaving the concept of reality with that of fantasy and transforming our everyday environment into a world in play. This situation on the one hand complicates the notions of reality and fantasy (fantasy referring to the game), while on the other hand within the game world the terms áludusá and ápaideaá are set off against one another. But what exists at the crossroads of these intermingling phenomena? What are the instances that incite the merging of fantasy and reality, and how can we best define this merge? In this paper, I will investigate these questions by looking at the applicability of the term áinterfaceá to the problematic co-existence of said antagonistic forces in the pervasive game. When investigating the nature of this type of play, one irrevocably must seek out the borders between the different elements of fantasy and reality, which leads us to the interface. Applied to digital games, the interface is invariably equalled to either the hardware (i.e. controllers and the like) or the software (i.e. visual elements of the game world) that gives rise to human/computer interaction. The screen captures both of these, as it is both a part of the hardware while visually representing the (3D) game world at the same time through software, functioning as a veritable Albertiás window through which the user can step from physical reality into the virtual universe of the game. The screen is viewed as a translucent membrane, an intermediary, which translates digital signs into actual player experience and parallels the player’s physical actions to manipulation in the digital realm. But is this notion of the interface in digital games satisfactorily covering all game genres? The example of the pervasive game, where little hardware and software is present, but which is inherently digital in its structure, challenges the current concept of the interface. Both from the perspective of the game, which is ambivalent in its player/game interaction and reality/game status, and from the perspective of the interface, which seems to be absent in the pervasive game, it is interesting to see how these two terms can be defined in relation to one another. By asking the question where and how the interface comes into being in the pervasive game (if it is in fact an apt term at all in this case), I will investigate the limbo between reality and game, as well as ludus and paidea in the pervasive game genre. The part of the player forms an important part of this paper, as he/she is in effect the crudest example of an interface in this type of play. After all, the player is of primary importance to the existence of the pervasive game: without him/her the streets will inevitably return to their everyday status. I will therefore argue that in part the interface I am trying to define can be located in the thoughts and imagination of the player. However, it must be noted here that player experience as such will not be addressed in this paper. This paper is an addition to the discourse surrounding interface theory and HCI. A buzzword by nature, the term áinterfaceá needs to be investigated and redefined in order to remain academically valid; at the same time the pervasive game, being part of recent developments in game culture, through careful analysis needs to be given a place in the discourse of digital games. In order to gain an insight in the player/game interaction and the relation between reality and game, I will therefore argue that a theoretical perspective is needed as a basis for further research into both interface theory and pervasive games. By approaching the interface through formal game theory, I will investigate the place and status of the interface in the pervasive game, as well as the different factors the intermediation consists of, in search of defining the interaction between fantasy and reality in pervasive gaming as a result from playing in a realistic environment.
Contact: Eva Nieuwdorp, master student at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands,
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