Persona

The academic homestead of Annika Waern

Archive for the category “Friend’s publications”

2016

14692101_10154520227440396_7304965817657911855_oThe past year was academically hectic, to a level when I just gave up on trying to capture everything in separate posts. This is an attempt to catch up on everything that happened. (I have probably missed things.)

The year started with Jon presenting his thesis that I already blogged about, and the fairly impressive presence that my research group had at CHI that I have also blogged. In addition to those were more or less closely related to play design and play studies, my Ph.D. student Mareike Glöss was coauthor on a great article on Über and how the mobile technology shapes the experience for drivers and passengers.

At CHI, Josh Tanenbaum grabbed me for a short video interview for his pervasive game class. While this interview was originally only intended for his students, he has now put it online and I kind of like the result. It’s a pretty playful video, and it reflects some of the more important things I have learned about pervasive game design and participation since the book came out in 2009. Some of the things we talk about seem to foreshadow Pokemon Go that struck the world about two months later.

DigiFys did not go unpublished for long – for soon, Eva-Lotta Sallnäs Pysander travelled to Australia to present the second project publication at Designing Interactive Systems. The article describes how the environment and the installations affected each other in a schoolyard field test of interactive play technology, and got a honourable mention!

Next, Elena Márquez Segura defended her Ph.D. thesis. The thesis is called “Embodied Core Mechanics: Designing for movement-based co-located play” and focusses on design strategies for the design of physical play. The thesis work focusses primarily on the early stages of design: on ideation methods and on ways to involve participants in shaping play. The core question that Elena has explored concerns what is actually being designed in these projects, as the technology often is just a tiny part of the whole design. Her answer is that the key thing to design is what she calls ‘embodied core mechanics’ – tiny snippets of physical activity that may involve many persons and several resources, and in which are manifest such qualities that the designers and players have found desirable. Elena’s thesis is  based on ideas that she started to investigate already in our joint 2013 CHI article on co-located play, and that have been developed through multiple design investigations.

Only a week later, Patrick Prax defended his thesis called “Co-creative Game Design as Participatory Alternative Media”. Patrick’s thesis is an investigation of how players shape the development of online games over time, not just trough play but also in a very concrete way by developing add-ons and other supporting resources. But it is unclear what power that players have – Patrick argues that their influence could potentially be a critical tool and as such provide some political power. Still, in most of his examples player-developers rather become a resource for unpaid labor for the companies. This is an intriguing thesis that manages to put the spotlight on a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common.

In the midst of summer, Pokemon Go struck bringing brief a brief moment of fame back for this old pervasive games scholar. I have written about the game here and here and in Swedish at the Uppsala University webpage. I was also interviewed by Swedish radio and UNT, the Uppsala daily newspaper. I hope that there soon will be a new blockbuster pervasive game that I can feel more enthusiastic about.

Late summer, DiGRA announced its inaugural selection of distinguished scholars, and I was elected to be one of them. While there certainly are many people that should have gotten recognition ahead of me and my recognition should probably be read as a thank-you for years of service to the organisation as program chair and journal editor, I am very proud of the title.

In October, Mareike Glöss defended her thesis “Technology encounters: Exploring the essence of ordinary computing” and by that, I ran completely out of Ph.D. students. Mareike has been studying how we approach information technology as part of our ordinary life, with a focus on family practices. Mareike’s thesis is anthropological and fits somewhat uneasily into human-computer interaction, but I would still recommend it for reading for all who aspire to develop everyday technology. In the end, Mareike’s conclusion is that despite the way technology is going increasingly mundane, we do not entirely integrate it into our collection of ‘stuff’. Technology doesn’t shrink into the background as other ‘stuff’ does, and it tends to create hubs of activity, sometimes for the whole family together. So essentially, Mareike has shown that I am wrong when I say that it’s becoming impossible to research interaction with IT separately from other interactions, as IT is becoming a part of everything we do. There is no saying that this will always be true – but right now, technology still seems to inhabit its own ontological space.

Later in October, I travelled to Austin to do a keynote at CHIPlay. It was a bit scary – I took the opportunity to talk about research and ideas that I haven’t fully developed yet and that deal with ways to look on play design as an alignment process between players and designers. (Some of this work has gone into an article that hopefully will come out in ToCHI during 2017.) The abstract for the talk can be found here. I also presented a paper that was mostly Elena’s work: the article “Playification: The PhySeEar case” where we basically look upon a more playful approach to gamification.

Late October, I presented a draft paper at the Uppsala Colloquium on “Communication, material and discursive power dynamics”. The colloquium was organised by my colleagues Vaia Douaki and Nico Carpentier, and I was definitely the odd bird out in this context. I tried to work through some of the documentation around two larp productions that were directed towards more mainstream audiences, but I don’t think that topic was political enough for the communication scholars. (I would like to take this text to Knutepunkt, to get some feedback before I finalise it.)

November and December were, thankfully, a bit more tranquil. In my spare time, I started to work together with the Cabaret crew to reshape the larp for a third run that will happen in June 2017. In late December, I playtested a scenario based on Cohen’s last record that seems to work pretty well. The scenario is called ‘You want it darker’ just as the record, and it is of course very much centred on Cohen’s music. And death.  I tried to finish a few papers on old projects before January hit with the start of new projects, but succeeded only with those that had set deadlines.

Apart from scary, 2017 looks to be again quite hectic. I hope I’ll have a little time also for blogging.

Playing @ CHI

My former and soon-to-be former Ph.D. students presented work at the CHI conference this year that is relevant for this blog. (CHI is the biggest and most prestigious conference in human-computer interaction.) Elena Márquez Segura and Laia Turmo presented on ‘Embodied Sketching‘, detailing and illustrating an approach to ideation for co-located physical play. Jon Back presented on “Designing Children’s Digital-Physical Play in Natural Outdoors Settings” as late-breaking news. This is a first publication from a very interesting collaboration project, in which interactive installations are designed into a landscape environment to support children’s play in a rich way.

Being a supervisor in the final phase of a Ph.D. is a slightly weird feeling. Of course, you have known for a long time that they already know their subject better than yourself. Still, when they start to realise that they do and get self-sufficient, you feel at the same time proud – and old and useless. But mostly proud.

(I had a paper in CHI myself too, on ethics of unaware participation.)

The recent Ph.D. Back

jon disputation

Jon was fated to defend his FAtE model… Photo by Sofia Stenler.

My (by now former) doctorate student Jon Back defended his Ph.D. thesis in February.The thesis is called ’Designing public play: Playful engagement, constructed activity, and player experience’.

This is a thesis is one of a range of recent dissertations that focus on play rather than games. It is not entirely easy to make this move. Play is typically seen as a broader category than gameplay, and is by that even more difficult to delimit and frame. What is play, to start with? To this, Jon adds the challenge that he is interested in designing for play, privileging the role of a designer in shaping the play activity. This is tricky. Whereas there are ways to make that distinction reasonably clear for game design, it becomes extremely problematic for play design, as so much of play is creative.

Jon’s been researching and designing public play for a long time now, both as an academic and as an active street performer.  A key feature of his work is that he wants to make it relevant for designers. This is not a philosophical thesis, it clearly belongs to the pragmatic approach to design research that characterises third wave HCI. The central contribution of the thesis is still rather abstract, and consists of two frameworks to help the designer  conceptualize of play in a way that foregrounds the rather loose relationship the play activity to the produced design. Based on several case studies including our joint project Codename Heroes, he is also able to provide some hands-on guidelines.

Jon and I think very much alike; and I am not sure if he has influenced me or vice versa. I am of course immensely proud of him at this time, and want everyone to read his thesis! But I cannot escape thinking that the relationship between designer and the designed play activity is even more complex than this thesis makes it – that it only begins to scratch the surface.

The (not so) recent Ph.D. Stenros

Jaakko captured together with his opponent Miguel Sicart and supervisor Frans Mäyrä.

Jaakko captured together with his opponent Miguel Sicart and supervisor Frans Mäyrä.

My long-term partner in research Jaakko Stenros defended his Ph.D. thesis in May this year. The thesis is named ‘Playfulness, play, and Games: A constructionist ludology approach’ which must be one of the more bold thesis titles I have seen. While almost every thesis in the game studies field contains some attempt at a game definition, making the general concepts of games and play the core topic of a thesis means that the author is tackling, heads on, a philosophical and scientific problem that has haunted scholars since ancient Greece.

Jaakko belongs to an emerging collective of researchers to which I guess I should count myself, that primarily aim to understand play rather than games. A common trait is that these researchers investigate play and game phenomena that include, but are not restricted to, computer games. These are researchers that refer to Caillois and Huizinga, and very often also Goffman, to emphasise the nature of play as voluntary and socially constructed. Jaakko goes beyond these well-established sources to explore just about every single text written about play during the twentieth century, to construct a complex and many-faceted perspective on play that is consistent with this basic social constructionist perspective. Games are not left out of the thesis: Jaakko devotes a thorough discussion to the relationship between play and game constructs, distinguishing between playing ‘the game’ and ‘the system’, the latter presenting opportunities for subversion and creative play. His constructionist approach also gives him a good tool for analysing forms of play that are not voluntary and socially agreed upon, he investigates the work of play in sports and online games as well as grief play.

One way to read Jaakko’s thesis is as a successor of Sutton-Smith’s ‘Ambiguity of Play’. Where Sutton-Smith successfully teased out the complexity of the concept of play, he was less successful in establishing synthesis. Jaakko manages to at the same time accept this complexity complexity and consistently argue a coherent perspective. A bit arbitrarily chosen, the following citation is from the chapter on games (page 142 in the thesis). Here Jaakko summarises the relationship between playfulness, play and games as such:

“Playfulness is a brute fact rooted in biology, something that is expressed in the paratelic metamotivational state of doing things for their own sake. Although it has its uses and functions, it cannot be reduced to other processes such as resignification or learning. The playful mindset is expressed in a personal boundary, a psychological bubble, which is related to a feeling of safety. Play(ing) is a socially negotiated activity (and thus a social fact) that is often engaged in under a playful mindset, but which can sever that connection. The negotiation sets up a magic circle of play, which is a separating porous boundary that allows for traffic, although usually anything that crosses the boundary is resignified. When the playing becomes more structured and rule-bound, it is referred to as a game, although game-activity would be a more precise term. Once the social negotiation is formalised, on the spot, due to historical processes, through an acquired designed artefact, or a combination thereof, and this form achieves a modicum of stability, a game-artefact appears. This game-artefact can be used to enact game-activity. As the rules become complete and clear, the game becomes an institutional fact. The game-artefact implies the boundary of arena and game space. When used, a magic circle of play aligns with the arena. Although analytically separated here, these processes are deeply intertwined.”

While I basically think that Jaakko has nailed the constructivist perspective and agree with it, I have some problems with the citation. For me as a design scholar, the most problematic part is the sense of “emergence” implied by Jaakko’s wording. The deliberate act of design, by designers as well as players, is left out of the discussion and since I believe that design and play are deeply intertwined I think that this may be a serious oversight.

But here is an idea: I have started to toy with the idea that play is difficult to define because it is primary. The very small child makes no distinction between play and work but toys with everything, and nothing is real until it’s been thoroughly explored over and over again. Everything is purposeless to be manipulated for the pleasure of senses: the hands, mouths, ears and eyes. The five year old has learned that things can be done for a purpose, but still toys with reality through resignification: the stick becomes a horse so that you can ride when you want to. The process of reaching adulthood is a continuous process of figuring out and artificially constructing work and reality, as opposed to play and fiction that we understand intuitively.

Needless to say, Jaakko’s thesis is a must-read. It is downloadable here.

A comment on ‘Brute Force’ design of larp

In-game footage from Monitor Celestra by John-Paul Bichard,

In-game footage from Monitor Celestra by John-Paul Bichard, Bichard Studios.

I recently read this piece by Eirik Fatland and Markus Montola on what they call ‘Brute Force’ larp design. The piece analyses two larps: The Monitor Celestra and the College of Wizardry, that both received viral attention and attracted players – and commercial interest – far beyond the Nordic larp scene. Within the scene, they were also two of the productions with the highest participant fees ever, opening a route towards commercial viability (remember that these still were non-commercial fandom larps).

The reason that I want to comment on the article is that Christopher Sandberg has criticised it in semi-public. Since I can’t link to his criticism here, I will briefly summarise it: Christopher argues that the design principles brought forward as key elements by Eirik and Markus were in fact problems and design issues, and that the key to blockbuster success was that both larps attached themselves to well-known IPs.

Firstly, it’s interesting to see what Eirik and Markus are trying to do: they are trying to outline what they see as a new and potentially commercially viable approach to Nordic larp design. We may even call it a genre. Attempting this on the basis of exactly two larps is of course a bit dangerous. With a data set of two, you are bound to uncover design choices that are similar but may have very little to do with how the larps played out, and underplay crucial design decisions that may have been instrumental – but different – in the respective productions.

So, let’s abstract a bit, to see what Eirik and Markus include as common design elements for the two productions. The highlighted design choices can be summarized as

  • An established IP and a cool location,
  • A ‘more is more’ approach, incorporating basically every trick in the book from classical fantasy larp design, and
  • Various design elements brought in from art-house Nordic larp.

What I find particularly interesting with the text is that in arguing for this as a ‘blockbuster formula for Nordic larp’, the authors prioritize quantitative evaluation over the experience of the individual player. Celestra faced problems with individual players being extremely dissatisfied, and both larps have been described also by players that enjoyed them as ‘not very good larps’. In selecting a quantitative approach, the authors deliberately take a step towards mass-market approaches of larp evaluation. They are establishing a ‘Candy Crush’ attitude towards the study of larp, where Monitor Celestra and College of Wizardry stand as models for larps that people are willing to pay for playing – but not necessarily like. (I don’t mean that this was a design strategy from the designers, nor that these were bad larps. It’s the approach to analysis I’m talking about.)

From this perspective, the central question becomes if there is a design approach emerging here that is at the same time key to success for the many, and a source of problems for the individual. Markus and Eirik seem to argue that there is, whereas Christopher argues that the problems can, and should be, eliminated. I think we can isolate the core issue as ‘plot trains’ and I need to dig a bit deeper into the highlighted design features to get at the controversy.

Firstly, the established IP. No controversy here. All three agree that this is a good thing, but not only because it generates hype and viral attention. Where old-style fantasy larps came with extensive world creation documents (the infamous ‘wall of text’), the use of well-known IPs means that the players already understand the world and knows how to act in it. Without much preparation, the players are able to co-create the fantasy and escapism that is a fundamental factor in the positive experience for these larps. A cool location – a battleship and a genuine castle, respectively – has essentially the same effect.

The controversy arises from the ‘more is more’ approach. Included in this design feature are things like overt command hierarchies that can be adhered to or subverted (teachers vs students, officers versus privates), prepared conflicts (rebels vs reactionaries, enemies and allies), secrets and quests given as personal information beforehand, and plot twists and quests introduced during play through NPC characters. Both larps used all of these, in abundance, and the effect was that there was “a lot going on all of the time”. Crudely summarising Markus and Eirik, they argue that this is at the same time a problem and an asset: while this means that there is always something to do and a plot to catch onto, the risk is that your attempt to play on a certain plot collides with another group on another quest; you ‘get run over by a plot train’.

But this must happen in traditional fantasy larp as well, yes? But this is where the last design feature comes in: these weren’t designed to be traditional larps. In particular, both productions included instructions to ‘play to lose’. As Eirik and Markus point out, this instruction is a very strong indicator of a larp that emphasises drama and narrative over competitive / gamistic play or even simulation. (Compare this to when Bøckman depicts a dramatist player as someone who “decides this would be a fine time to make a dramatic scene, and sacrifices him selves for the town, without regard for the role’s agenda”.) Furthermore, both larps combined this with rules of combat that emphasised its narrative rather than competitive role.

Thing is, dramatic play is hard. In a previous post, I discussed how dramatic play emerges from a mutual engagement in collective storymaking. It requires a fair amount of agency and negotiation. In this context, being run over by a plot train is not just irritating but outright destructive. If you play to win and lose, it still makes for a good story. If you play to lose and fail to do so, you end up with no story at all. (Christopher’s critique is more elaborate than this, but for me this is a core issue.)

Will the problem go away? The blockbuster formula article may be mistaken in concluding that the ‘more is more’ approach is a key feature. College of Wizardry indeed toned it down a bit in its later runs, in particular by making NPC-initiated plots less important. But it is also possible that these games work well for players that go with the flow, who react more than act. The sheer abundance of content will ensure that there will always almost be something to do, some plot train to board. If the goal is to create decent experiences for many, it may be less important if the design strategy sometimes backfires for the individual player.

References:

Bøckman, Petter. “The Three Way Model“. As Larp Grows Up (2002): 12-16.

Fatland, Eirik and Montola, Markus. “The blockbuster formula – Brute force design in The Monitor Celestra and College of Wizardry”. In ed. Nielsen and Raasted: Knudepunkt 2015 companion book, 2015. Available here.

The recent Ph.D. Svahn

Mattias

This cool picture of Mattias was stolen from his Facebook page.

Mattias and I go way back; he even coordinated the EU project IPerG (integrated project on pervasive gaming) for six months while I was busy designing and staging Interference. Mattias has done his thesis in Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, and I have been co-supervising the work since he started. Mattias has studied the persuasive effects of a range of pervasive games designed to spur awareness of electricity consumption. The games were developed at the Interactive Institute and Mattias’ role was to understand if the games managed to change people’s behaviour.

This is interesting work. Based on theories of dual process modelling and cognitive categorization, Mattias argues that the persuasive effect of pervasive games could be rather strong. The idea is that when you do something (such as switch off a lamp to conserve energy) you rationalize it to be consistent with your ‘cognitive heuristics’; your way of making rapid decisions without thinking too much about them. If it is not, you have to actively figure out how to describe what you did, and that will change your beliefs. You create new categories of actions and figure out new reasons for doing them. Even if the act originally was done to score points in a game, doing it may lead to changing your classifications and beliefs.

We know very little about if games have this type of persuasive effects. It is unlikely to be strong in computer games as you don’t do all that much – you sit in front of a computer and press buttons – and you must first re-interpret your actions as something else (such as switching off a lamp) before the aware thinking effect may kick in. But in pervasive games, most acts are done for real; you really DO switch off your kitchen lamp. This should make it more difficult to escape the persuasive effect.

So, did it work? Did Mattias find a persuasive effect? Mattias answers yes, but he brackets his answer. The effect was strongest for players that were positive towards energy saving from start and needed less persuasion. Some of the other participants didn’t really engage with the theme, but played the energy-saving games just to score points. What perhaps is most interesting is that Mattias also could document attitude changes also with the families of players, people who were not themselves playing the game but who got sucked into it second-hand as the task was to save energy in the household. The fact that the games were socially expanded created a secondary persuasive effect, a bit like passive smoking.

Mattias’ thesis is well-worth reading, even if the final part is a bit too heavy on statistical number acrobatics for my taste. There, Mattias tries to construct a theoretical model for the causes and effects of persuasion, which I do not completely trust. It is an interesting hypothesis, but at the very least it needs further verification.

A big congrats to Mattias! I am sure I will see more of your work in the future – not in the least since we are now in the process of applying for joint project funding.

Mattias’ thesis is called ‘pervasive persuasive games‘ and can be downloaded in full.

Body games: Elena Márquez Segura’s licentiate thesis

elenaMy Ph.D. student Elena defended her licentiate thesis on Friday December 6th, with Floyd Mueller from the Exertion games lab in Melbourne as her “opponent”, a sort of external examiner used in the Swedish ph.d. procedure. It’s not common to have foreign opponents for a licentiate, so we were happy to be able to invite Floyd.

Elena’s thesis is named “Body games: Designing for co-located play activity’. The core theoretical contribution is based on our joint CHI article from earlier this year, but goes a bit deeper into the social and spatial design options. But whereas the CHI article was based on a game design project,  Elena adds a case study where she designs for play in a non-game setting, psychotherapeutic training for the elderly. It is hard to think of a less playful domain! Still, Elena manages to show how a playful setup and a shift in responsibilities for the physiotherapist creates something akin to a festive context, encouraging a playful attitude to the training session. I really like this part, in that it hints at an alternative to the standard gamification approach to reward accomplishments.

With the physiotherapist example, Elena moves out from focussing on gaming behaviour towards more general playfulness. This, Elena needs to elaborate further when going for the Ph.D., as her theory is very much taken from game design and lacks a bit of grounding in theories of play. Throughout the thesis it is clear that Elena has started, but not quite finished, articulating her approach to playful design and she might need another case study to get ther. But what is primarily lacking is publications – the thesis presents a fair amount of empirical investigations that she should publish. It’ll be great fun to accompany her on this path!

I’ll edit in a link to Elena’s thesis if she makes it available!

“Designing Activity and Creating Experience”: Jon Back’s licentiate thesis

jon

Jon presenting, surrounded by a magic circle. Photo by Sofia Stenler.

Two weeks ago, my Ph.D. student Jon Back defended his licentiate thesis. (The ‘lic’ is a non-compulsory intermediate exam on the way to your Ph.D.) The thesis is named ‘Designing activity and creating experience‘, and is based on Jon’s experiences in designing, staging and studying two locative experiences. The first one was an art experience in locative storytelling based both on physical artefacts and  a GPS-based commenting system. The second is our joint ongoing project Codename Heroes.

The licentiate is as mentioned a ‘half-way’ exam, and this is very clear in Jon’s contribution. Jon is struggling with a central problem in game design, in that it is ‘second order’ design. You do not create peoples’ experiences: they create them for themselves, by acting out within the context of a game design. In Jon’s thesis this design issue meets with the perspective on experiences that is prevalent in interaction design research: McCarthy and Wright’s appropriation of Dewey’s concept of experience. The way the words ‘an experience’ are used in interaction design they denote the subjective experience of a lived-through sequence of actions and events with a clear beginning and end.

Through the lens of ‘experience’, Benford and Giannachi have for example formulated experiential trajectories as a tool for designing and analysing an experience.Although trajectories can apply to a range of designed experiences, it works best with fairly railroaded ones. They provide less explanatory power when it comes to analysing games and their ‘second order design’ qualities. My understanding of Jon’s licentiate is that he is trying to build a similar analysis tool for game design. More specifically he addresses play in public space as this form of play presents particular difficulties in attracting participants, offering modes of participation, and providing exit and entry points. To get there, he emphasises that experiences do not exist until they are over – until the arc of experience has come to its end. Although this is in line with what Dewey writes it is seldom examined in interaction design research, and it gives a specific angle to Jon’s work that I am not sure he is aware of himself yet.

Jon continues to study play in public space for another year. I look forward to continue working with him!

REFERENCES

John McCarthy and Peter Wright (2004) Technology as experience. MIT Press 2007 (reprint)

John Dewey (1934) Art as experience. Pedigree trade 2005 (reprint)

A bachelor thesis on Shadow Cities

Last fall, I supervised this bachelor thesis by Linnéa Nordlund and Alex Sjöberg Larsson. Their job was to investigate how players of a fairly hardcore pervasive game, Shadow Cities, felt about the fact that the game uses a freemium model of payment. Linnéa and Alex played the game, scrutinized forum discussions, and performed a small survey.

Their results are rather surprising. In the forum discussions, players either complain about the in-game purchases as they provide play advantages, or downplay their importance in the game. But in the (anonymous) survey, players agree that the in-game purchases provide play advantages and, at the same time, like to use them. There seems to be a difference between the public discourse around the game, and how players actually use the function and play the game.

Linnéa and Alex also made some attempts to find out which players are most positive towards in-game purchases. As they wanted a short survey, they did some shortcuts here and the player classification method they used did not fully work out. Still, they found that players that classified themselves as hard-core players were more accepting towards in-game purchases, something that again contradicts the usual perception of the hard-core player as someone who wants to win by skill alone.

I find their results intriguing and plausible, and it is also a very well written bachelor thesis. Hence, I have asked Linnéa and Alex if I can make it available here. Due to the small size of the survey it has no chance of getting accepted into an academic venue, and my hope is that there might be a scholar out there who’d like to take this work further.

And thanks to you, Alex and Linnéa! You were awesome students!

eriklinnea

The recent Ph.D. Montola

Image

Markus after his defense, flanked by the primary supervisor Frans Mäyrä, and the thesis opponent Mary Flanagan.

My longtime friend and co-author Markus Montola defended his Ph.D. thesis on September 22nd. Since I was formally appointed his co-supervisor about two years ago, it also means that I got my fourth ph.d. student through the system. (Not that Markus really needed any supervision – he was way ahead of both me and Frans Mäyrä almost from start in selecting subject and approach. The only thing he’s needed has been resistance.)

Markus thesis is about role-playing games (with a strong focus on larp) and pervasive games (with a focus on pervasive role-playing games). Hence, his focus of interest is rather similar to mine. Markus’ frames his domain as that of ‘ephemeral games’ – games where every game session is so unique that it might not even make sense to talk about a ‘game’ that exists outside of the individual session.  Role-playing games fall into this category as they leave plenty of room for player improvisation, and pervasive games due to the infinite ways in which the real world can interact with the game. I am probably biased, but I think everyone who is interested in role-playing games or pervasive games should read this thesis.

Markus’ main strength is how he carefully frames every concept he’s working with. He was the person behind the definition of ‘pervasive games’ that framed our book on the subject, and in the thesis he does the same to concepts such as role-play, ephemeral games, and first-person audience. Markus is creating language for us all that are studying this class of games and play activities. His weakness may be method – the thesis lacks a thorough discussion of epistemology and the individual papers represent a mix of descriptive scoping of core concepts and qualitative empirics. The advantage is that the thesis becomes unusually readable – the introduction could be used as a textbook on ephemeral games and their significance in the field of game studies.

Markus is already a quite well-known scholar, in particular for his work on creating an academic discourse around Nordic live role-playing. Markus has already made a brilliant career as a games researcher – and I predict that it will continue, even though he’s currently working as a game designer.

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