But that said, especially for those of you who have put up with, even embraced, my elusive, decontextualized best sentences... here is the abstract. Violalala!
This Might Be a Game examines the historical intersection of ubiquitous computing and multi-modal digital gaming, circa 2001 AD. Ubiquitous computing is the emerging field of computer science that seeks to augment everyday objects and physical environments with invisible and networked computing functionality. Multi-modal digital gaming describes our contemporary technological culture in which new media and novel technological platforms are adopted for play virtually as soon as they are invented. This dissertation argues that the parallel and often mutually reinforcing proliferations of embedded interactive platforms and pervasive gaming systems have produced a significant body of experimental game projects that radically reconfigure the formal, technical and social limits of play in relation to everyday life.
In order to mark the heterogeneity of this experimental design space at the turn of the twenty-first century, I propose three distinct categories of ubiquitous play and performance. They are ubiquitous computer gaming, in which academic research games are deployed to colonize new objects, environments, and users in the name of ubiquitous computing; pervasive gaming, in which spectacular art games aim to critique and to disrupt the social conventions of public spaces; and ubiquitous gaming, in which commercial, massively-multiplayer games work to materially replicate the interactive affordances of traditional digital games in the real world.
Using design statements, original gameplay media, and first-person player accounts, I explore the aesthetics and socio-technological visions of seminal games from each of these three categories, including Can You See Me Now? (Blast Theory and the Mixed Reality Lab, 2001); the Big Urban Game (The Design Institute and Playground, 2003); and The Beast (Microsoft, 2001), respectively. I focus in particular on the category of ubiquitous gaming, which of the three has produced to date the most scalable, reproducible and popular vision of a games-infused, everyday life.
My critical analysis of these games draws heavily on a close reading of seminal ubiquitous computing manifestos by Rich Gold, whose perspective as an artist and former toy developer yields an unusually performative and playful understanding of the phenomenological implications of invisible, embedded, and everywhere computer networks. I conclude by offering an analytical framework for the future study of ubiquitous play and performance that is based in the pre-digital games theory of Johann Huizinga, Roger Caillois, and Brian Sutton-Smith. With this framework, I argue that digital game designers and researchers must attend more carefully to the insights and agendas of philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists who historically have explored play as an embodied, social and consequential ritual, always already grounded in the practices of everyday life.