When asked to give a keynote for italian IA summit, I immediately thought about games as
spaces of information.
Games as information spaces
Chess are a pretty good example of a game of perfect information. Players have all the
information they need to play the game. Nothing is hidden.
But if we think about cards, we look at games of imperfect information. A part of the
information is hidden to the players.
When looking at videogames, we see how game designers deal with information to convey
certain emotions to the player. In Dead Space, the choice to embed all the player related
information into the game world helps delivering the sense of tension and fear, because let
the player focus on the action rather than on an HUD.
Games are spaces of possibility
Games are, mostly, spaces of possibility, that the player can explore to learn new things.
Grand Theft Auto IV brings to the player a huge space of possibility in the form of a city.
A rules mediated space
But the space in GTA IV is mediated by the rules of the game, enabling the player to do some
actions instead of others.
Affordance refers to
what sorts of
manipulations can be
done to a particular
– Donald Norman
Donald Norman described this way the concept of affordance.
And if you look at this stuff, you can immediately understand what you can do with it. These
buttons have the affordance of being pressed. What about game spaces?
Rules specify limitations
– Jesper Juul
Here, as Jesper Juul noted, affordances can be determined by rules
See? This is a remote control. It was done this way to be more friendly for people who never
played a game. But the game rules can mutate its affordance, changing it in a golf club, a
sword or many other things.
Brenda Brathwaite, 2009
In Brenda Brathwaite’s Train, player must stuff the little yellow ﬁgures in the wagons, and the
bring them to the end of the tracks, only to ﬁnd that the destination was in fact Auschwitz.
All the rules an the materials of the game contribute to create the world, and instantly make
And the typewriter details emerge in all their creepiness.
Playing the city
[or: relationships between city spaces and game spaces.]
So, I would like to talk about how rules can change the affordances of the city, looking at
pervasive games and game like mobile apps.
By running from a roof to another, parkour people changed the affordances of the cityscape.
Super Mario Bros.
In the same period, in Japan, Super Mario Bros. was revealed.
The choice of the run button, which made Mario run faster, changes the way the game is
played. The intended gameplay is a continuous ﬂow of jumps and runs, pretty much like
In 2008 a game was released. It’s called Mirror’s Edge
And it featured a rebel young woman running through the roofs and jumping from an object
to another. Is parkour in a game space. And affordances are color-coded, to deﬁne paths.
“ See the flow.
Rooftops become pathways and conduits,
opportunities and escape routes.
The flow is what keeps you running – what keeps
You can see this idea looking at the ﬁrst thing the player hear when starts the game. Every
city elements changes its affordance through the rules.
The new downloadable levels are pretty interesting. The city here disappears, and only
affordances are left.
This game was developed in 2009.
It extremely simpliﬁes the concept behind Mirror’s Edge and parkour. You jump from a
building to another, running faster and faster. You press just one button to control the game.
And in the same year parkour is back to the city, in a simpliﬁed version madeby Jane
McGonigal for the American Heart Association.
In Cryptozoo player must imitate the movements of strange animals. These animals use the
city in a creative way: Ninja rabbits duck every time they see a parked car, for example. The
playere here redeﬁne affordances of various objects you ﬁnd in a typical city street.
Pervasive games enable
– Jane McGonigal
These affordances, in a pervasive space where there are non-game elements, could easily
become inﬁnite: players can add new affordances and play the game in unpredictable ways.
Cruel to Be kind is a pretty good example: players don’t even know which are their objectives.
So, they ﬁght with kindness act which often involve people unaware of the game.
In One Behindmanship doors become much more interesting objects: the player must be the
last of a group passing through one door, as long as the other players don’t call a stalemate.
This obviously involves into the game unaware players.
Chore wars changes the affordances of home chores, by mapping a fantasy environment and
experience points on the daily routine.
In modern pervasive games, smart objects have a lot of importance in redeﬁning affordances.
This box only opens when it’s brought to a certain location, thanks to a GPS module
Zurich University of Arts, 2009
And some of these objects can become toys.
This ball can register the times it bounces against a wall, and send the data, along with gps
coordinates, to a server. It was made as a toy, with undeﬁned rules, but then a simple game
of territory control was made. This can change the affordance of a building or even of an
The fun theory
This example from “a fun theory” by Volkswagen transforms stairs into a music keyboard.
In Critical City, missions are used to change the use of city spaces in order to critically live
them or to improve them.
Bus-tops plays with a screen mounted on the rooftop of bus stops. It is interesting because it
changes not only the affordance of the stop (to give shelter to people waiting the bus)
but even the affordance of the top deck of London buses. The possibility to interact with the
roof system further improves the experience.
And then mobile technologies come up. And should totally be considered.
So, in Layar, an augmented reality browser for smartphones, you can add layers of
information to the real world. What if these layers could in fact change the affordance of the
In a very simple and basic way is what social networks like Foursquare are trying to do. When
you check in a place, the place you’re in changes its affordance, albeit in a pretty basic and
Gowalla is pretty much the same story. Maybe it should be possible to go beyond the simple
Whaiwhai is an italian project that tries to change the way the people visit a town. It basically
maps a story with puzzles you have to solve to a city. You follow the story through a weird
guide, sending and receiving SMS to know how to proceed. The affordances of landmark
dramatically change leaving intact their history.