Stenros, J et al ~ The Ethics of Pervasive Gaming

Chapter 10 in Montola, M et al ~ Pervasive Games

“In general, games distinguish themselves from everyday life in that they delimit activity differently. Things that are acceptable within the magic circle of a game might not be so in ordinary life, and vice versa.”
“Games liberate the activities of those who participate in them through offering a context where the outcomes of their actions do not influence their daily life. This is a central feature of the magic circle: The restrictions set down by the game are needed for the game to be free and liberating. […] Expanding the magic circle takes pervasive games into a hazardous area, where a situation is ludic for some and ordinary for others.”
If bystanders don’t know they are watching a game, they might call the police or get seriously angry.

“Games are not the only human activity that has this property: Art, politics, and sacred ceremonies are all social systems that are demarked with differently framed ethics. However, social systems must be upheld socially; their limits are constantly renegotiated by those involved. In secretive pervasive games, ludic and ordinary activities become blurred, and social negotiation becomes impossible, or at least fraudulent, as some participants are not as well equipped to participate. This is a feature that pervasive games share with transgressive activities in other social systems.”

“‘When climbing past windows it is not polite to look in. This is especially true if there is something interesting to see.'”

“In a playful state of mind, “within reason” means something different from what it means in a serious context. Jane McGonigal has noted that pervasive games have a tendency to shift the focus from free play within illusory constraints toward becoming actors playing their part in a vision dictated by the game designer.”

“In alternate reality games, it is common to include several levels of invitations, bringing a person further and further toward full-fledged playership, using the onion model of participation. As the full rules of a pervasive game are not always exposed at the time of entering the game, repeated levels of invitations can provide a good mechanism to ensure that players have a good picture of what they are agreeing to each time they decide to participate more deeply.”

“Usually, events that are organized for “the common good” have more leeway. Organizations, be they department stores or museums, are more willing to cooperate with game oganizers if the game collects money for charity or seeks to liven up a neighborhood in a joyous and egalitarian way. Similarly, unaware participants are more likely to forgive transgressions for good causes, but if money is made out of the venture, they may feel that the profit has been made at their expense.”

“Gaining a genuine societal acceptance is the best long-term strategy: Conversing with officials in advance and paying rent for the play areas are good ways to get started.”

“A basic piece of advice is therefore to always notify the relevant authorities, be it the police department or park rangers, that one is about to run a game in their jurisdiction. If something unexpected were to happen and they need to get involved, forewarning can be instrumental in helping to defuse a situation.”

5 defenses of art (A. Julius; 2003; Transgressions: The offences in art):
1. aesthetic alibi (although some forms of expression, such as hate speech and blaspehmy, can be legislated and cicumscribed, these restrictions do not apply to art)
2. art speech (artistic expression is on par with political and commercial speech, and thus, for example, government funding must be allocated to all kinds of artists or else the state is not living up to constitutional requirements)
3. estrangement defense (art teaches its audience something about themselves, the world, or art itself. Shocking the viewer is necessary to shatter illusions, to astonish, to disturb, to seduce, or to shake things up)
4. formalist defense (it is the job of art to explore form and the spectator should learn to keep his cool distance and contemplate. The subject is not relevant, only the presentation)
5. canonical defense (it looks for continuity in the canon of art. It finds similar works that are respected, points to them, and shows that, logically, if the new work is dismissed, there goes the canon as well)

“While all games are forms of expression, freedom of expression cannot be uncritically extended to cover all pervasive games: Performative activity on the far edge of the magic circle is not only expression, but also physical acting in ordinary life. While freedom of expression covers both the magic circle and ordinary life, it can be argued that it is limited to the world of representation and not extended to the physical world. It is one thing to write and stage a play where a person is pushed in front of a car, but claiming that freedom of expression covers shoving a pedestrian into traffic in ordinary life would be preposterous. But where is the line drawn?”
“It is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. But just as one might not receive permission, forgiveness is not automatic either.”

“Pervasive games are in constant and sometimes unavoidable conflict with ordinary reality.”

About the author

Woitek Konzal

Producer, Consultant, Lecturer & Researcher. I love working where technology meets media in novel ways. Once, I even won an Emmy for digital innovation doing that. Be it for a small but exciting campaign about underground electronic music collectives or for a monster project combining two movies, various 360° videos, 72 ARG-like mini puzzles, and a Unity game, all wrapped up in one cross-platform app – I have proven my ability to adapt to what is required. This passion for novel technologies has regularly allowed me to cross paths with tech startups – an industry and philosophy I am all set to engage with more. I intensely enjoy balancing out my practical work with academic research, teaching, and consulting. Also, I have a PhD in Creative Industries, a M.Sc. in Business Administration, and love to kitesurf.

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