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Play and place-storming

Jane McGonigal is one of my favourite researchers on play, performance and mobile computing. She’s a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and her dissertation is on location-based play and performance at the turn of the 21st century. I first heard Jane speak on 5 Urban Search Terms at Intel’s Urban Computing event in July, and I’ve followed her work ever since.

We share common interests and inspirations – I had written about play, world-building and mobile technologies in an article for receiver magazine – and in their NordiCHI 2004 paper, Ken Anderson and McGonigal discuss Place-Storming, their “original method of brainstorming technological concepts, particularly in the area of pervasive computing”:

“We draw inspiration from the fact that the word ‘play’ comes from the Old English word for movement and originally referred to being active, operative or effective. For us, play is not only imaginary and imaginative, but also highly physical and world-building, in a real and material sense. We also take a cue from Mikhail Bakhtin, who described play as a way we explore, adapt and subvert facets of our everyday worlds. Exploring and subverting everyday worlds is key to our desire to discover unfamiliar contexts in everyday sites, transformed by the ubiquity of computing technologies.”

But the most interesting bit is how they connect play to context, creativity and innovation:

“Creative ideas for innovation can come from anywhere; indeed, than can come from paying special attention to where. By employing play in-situ, the contexts themselves (the ‘where’) can provide productive triggers for innovation. Questions concerning how the built material and social environments might engage, hinder or refocus technological practice can be asked most directly and naturally when conducting pervasive brainstorming. Focus is extended from the interactions between things and people to the interactions between people, things and their contextual spaces. And real-world issues like privacy, security, and emotional states are more apt to be identified and considered in actual contexts.”

For more on Jane’s PhD research, you can check out her qualifying lecture, Play or Else: A performance studies approach to ubiquitous gaming and a presentation she recently gave to the MacArthur Foundation Board of Directors, Alternate Reality Gaming: ‘Life Imitates ARG’.