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From Mobile Games to Playful Communication: Play in Everyday Life


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Keynote in the IADIS Mobile Learning 2013 conference, Lisbon, 15 March 2013.

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From Mobile Games to Playful Communication: Play in Everyday Life

  1. 1. From Mobile Games toPlayful Communication:Play in Everyday LifeF r a n s Mä yr ä , Ph DP r o fes s or, In fo r mat ion S t udi e s & I n t e r a c t iv e Me di aS c h o o l o f In fo r mat io n S c i e n c e s, T R I M, G a me Re s e a r c h L a bUni ver s it y o f Ta mp er e
  2. 2. Games’ increasing contextual and demographic reach• Opportunities for solitary play, and social interaction• Game play motivations can be contradictory (e.g. casual vs. immersive/hardcore)• Expanding software ecosystems are increasingly reaching both active and non- active game players• Need to recognize the tensions that characterize the evolving mobile games and user cultures as well as related service design
  3. 3. Increasing range of games and play• The database lists now c. 72 000 different games• New ones appearing daily• There are 138 different platforms listed• App Stores for mobile games & applications are showing strongest growth• In Finland, 98 % of people are game players, 89 % are active players• 73 % play digital games, 54 % are active digital game players• Average digital game player age is 37 years• Particularly mobile game playing is on the rise• (Source: Karvinen & Mäyrä, Player Barometer 2011)
  4. 4. The immersive future?
  5. 5. The sense of games and play• Play and playfulness is a wider phenomenon than games• Johan Huizinga: the play impulse is the foundation of culture and creativity (Homo Ludens, 1938)• Play thrives at the outside of instrumental utility, where an endogenous system of meaning can be established• Also in our everyday life we orient according to social frames, or the rules of situational contexts• Play can emerge as initiated by the situation, place, practices or the actor herself
  6. 6. Playful person• In the personality psychology some of the characteristics of playfulness have been identified:• Playfulness is the predisposition to frame (or reframe) a situation in such a way as to provide oneself (and possibly others) with amusement, humor, and/or entertainment. Individuals who have such a heightened predisposition are typically funny, humorous, spontaneous, unpredictable, impulsive, active, energetic, adventurous, sociable, outgoing, cheerful, and happy, and are likely to manifest playful behavior by joking, teasing, clowning, and acting silly. (Barnett 2007, 955.)
  7. 7. Are you playful in your work?
  8. 8. Playfulness in games• All games and all game players are not particularly playful• Highly competitive, tightly rule-regulated games do not provide as much room for playfulness as more free-form play• True play should always have some leeway, free movement within a more rigid structure (Salen & Zimmerman 2004)• The range of game-like phenomena is great, from free sandbox games (paidia play) to tightly controlled competitive games (ludus play; Caillois 1958; Frasca 2003)
  9. 9. Playfulness in communication• Playful communication takes place “for its own sake”, and fulfils poetic or phatic function (R. Jakobsson 1960)• E.g. play with words can be motivated by artistic curiosity or by the need to entertain others• In humour, a person releases supressed energy (Freud 1989) or creates new meanings by joining different phenomena or viewpoints in surprising ways• “Joking is a game that players only play successfully when they both understand and follow the rules” (Critchley 2002)• Jokes and playful communication can be nurturing and caring, but also teasing and ridiculing use of power
  10. 10. Game as communication• Playfulness and games rely on meta-communication, the hints that help e.g. a puppy to differentiate a ‘nip’ from a real ‘bite’ (Bateson 1976)• The means of games can be used to make complex phenomena more easily understandable (Duke 1974: games are the “language of the future”)• Games utilize the rhetoric of persuasion and can convey a stance, make a point (Bogost 2007; Bogost et al. 2010)• In games, two forms of communication come together: semiosis and ludosis (Mäyrä 2008)
  11. 11. Characteristics of playful communication• Playfulness of communication can be evaluated from three key dimensions:1. Does it encourage spontaneous, free acts of play? (free play)2. Does it encourage creating and sharing creative, surprising contents and combinations? (creative play)3. Does it encourage engagement in free, self-purposeful manner? (freedom from utilitarian though)(Source: Mäyrä, Frans (2012) “Playful Mobile Communication – ServicesSupporting the Culture of Play”. Interactions: Studies in Communication &Culture, 3:1 (October 2012), 55-70.)
  12. 12. Rapidly increasing mobile communications• Particularly young people appear to have increased their mobile communications and data usage
  13. 13. App usage on the rise• 4,125 Android smartphone users tracked, “users spent 59.23 minutes per day on their devices. However, the average application session – from opening an app to closing it – lasted only 71.56 seconds”• Source: Böhmer et al. (2011) “Falling Asleep with Angry Birds, Facebook and Kindle – A Large Scale Study on Mobile Application Usage”. MobileHCI 2011.
  14. 14. Games and playful mobile communications• Two directions of game development:1. Small video games2. True mobile games• The latter make use of the distinctive strengths of mobile technology, such as touch screens, location information, different sensors, and social networks• The mixed reality and augmented reality games have made significant progress in a decade• Playful communication even more prevalent than mobile game play?
  15. 15. Examples
  16. 16. Gaming with (mobile) images• Social media has increased the incentive for sharing photos and mobile media further lowers the threshold for sharing and self-expression• Flickr (2004) is an early example of a playful and game-like environment for communicating with images• Originally emerged as a side project in developing web-based MMO titled “Game Neverending”• Smartphones feed the growing role of visual information in Flickr (as in Facebook and many other social services)• The “interestingness” algorithm detects the most interesting photos shared in the service, and has led into “gaming the Flickr”• Users are developing their own playful photo culture, e.g. playful message forum threads where the rule is to use only one colour, or a particular shape• More: Mäyrä, Frans (2011) “Games in the Mobile Internet: Towards Contextual Play”. In: Garry Crawford & Victoria Gosling & Ben Light (eds.), Online Gaming in Context: The social and cultural significance of online games. New York: Routledge. p. 108-129.
  17. 17. Facebook and playful communication• There are estimated 200-300 million active game players in Facebook (which has over 1 billion users)• Earlier the game messages filled the ‘news streams’ or Facebook, but this has been changed• Phatic communication, joking and silly links and photos, ironic and playful comments to daily news• A building and management simulation game such as Farmville (2009) has immediately also been used for playful self-expression• Games that allow creative play are games or emergence rather than of progression (Juul 2002; Kirman 2010)
  18. 18. Source:
  19. 19. Expanding games literacy• Case Rovio:• Angry Birds: physics puzzles• Angry Birds Space: physics puzzles in an environment with more complex gravitational opportunities• Bad Piggies: increasingly complex toolbox for creating different solutions to physics based puzzle levels• Education of a casual gaming audience in games literacy and playful creativity
  20. 20. MOGAME case study • University of Tampere Game Research Lab designed and implemented a location-based, multiplayer mobile game prototype in 2003- 2004 • Featured an audio-focused user interface (shaman’s drum), which carried clues about the mixed reality game events • Let players write “scrolls” that could be dropped into various locations • Enabled player-created treasure hunts, trails of hints available in mixed reality • (More: see Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces, 2009 & Theory and Design of Pervasive Games, 2009.)
  21. 21. Playful, user-createdcontent in locative media • Foursquare and services that have followed its ‘check-in’ game mechanic are changing our relationships to physical and social space • Users have utilized the service for (rule-breaking) playful communication • Quantity of mobile social media apps is increasing, but are they really empowering the users/players? • (800,000+ apps available both in iOS App Store and Google Play)
  22. 22. Directions of development• We need to teach and learn gaming literacy, media literacy and life management as integrated with each other• Need for balancing the flow of stimuli with selective attention and memory skills as well as social skills, supported by smart design decisions• We are continuously adapting into new information ecosystems, our thinking and cultures are in constant state of flux• The new culture of learning is created and shaped within the context of increasingly playful and games-saturated society• The most positive future directions are linked with creative, playful activity, and collaboration that is empowered by individual and cultural differences
  23. 23. Selected References• Barnett, L.A., 2007, The Nature of Playfulness in Young Adults, • Frasca, G., 2003, Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Personality and Individual Differences, 43(4), pp. 949–958. Ludology, in M. J. P. Wolf and B. Perron, (eds.) The Video Game Theory Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 221-235.• Bogost, I., 2007, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. • Goffman, E., 1961, Encounters; Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.• Bogost, I., Ferrari, S. & Schweizer, B., 2010, Newsgames: Journalism at Play, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. • Huizinga, J., 1955, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture, Boston: Beacon.• Critchley, S., 2002, On Humour, London & New York: Routledge. • Karvinen, J, & Mäyrä, F. 2011. Pelaajabarometri 2011: Pelaamisen• Caillois, R., 1958/2001, Man, Play and Games, Urbana (IL): Muutos. TRIM Research Reports. Tampere: University of Tampere. University of Illinois Press.• Duke, R.D., 1974, Gaming: The Future’s Language, New York: Sage • Kirman, B., 2010, Emergence and Playfulness in Social Games, in Publications. Proceedings of MindTrek 2010. New York: ACM, pp. 71-77.• Jakobsson, R., 1960, Closing statements: Linguistics and Poetics, in • Mäyrä, F., 2008, An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture, T. A. Sebeok, (ed.) Style in Language. Cambridge (MA): Technology London & New York: Sage Publications. Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp. 350-377. • Mäyrä, Frans, 2012, “Playful Mobile Communication – Services• Juul, J. 2002. “The Open and the Closed: Games of Emergence and Supporting the Culture of Play”. Interactions: Studies in Games of Progression.” In Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, Communication & Culture, 3:1 (October 2012), 55-70 323–329. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.