Ubiquitous Gameplay

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Gameplay which is possible at most times and in most locations without requiring significant adjustments to these locations.

Most games require technological platforms to be played or that preparations are made before gameplay begins, but even so, it may not be possible to play them due to other people being disturbed by the gameplay. Part of the problem is due to the fact a games rules, game state, and information typically require some form of medium so that players can perceive them. Further, those with complex algorithms that the players are not intended to calculate themselves require computers or game facilitators. Both these types of requirements limits where and when games can be played. Games that by design try to avoid these requirements, and thereby can be played more easily at any place and at any time, strive to have Ubiquitous Gameplay.


Rock-Paper-Scissors requires only another player in reasonable vision range to be able to play and is due to this a prime example of Ubiquitous Gameplay. Children's Games such as Tag or Hide-and-Seek can be played in most places, and can be said to support Ubiquitous Gameplay as long as one has others to play with and the games are not perceived as disruptive by others. Assassin and various flash mobs (see McGonigal 2005[1] for examples) are played by adults but otherwise are similar in structure. The traditional parlor game Twenty Questions and the trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon are probably more independent of time and location that the previous examples, only requiring two players and that one can ask and answer questions.

Card Games such as Contract Bridge, Poker, Rummy, and Spades arguably have high Ubiquitous Gameplay since they do not require much space and decks of cards are easy to carry along (or get hold of). The same applies to Dice Games; Yahtzee is one example but Craps, Greed, Hazard, and Liar's Dice are better ones since they require less in note taking. Card games using unique decks, e.g. M.I.G., No Thanks!, and Werewolf, can also support Ubiquitous Gameplay due to their small size, but do this to a lesser degree (Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age is a similar example for Dice Games). Collectible Card Games such as Magic: The Gathering in turn supports it even less but significantly more than computer-based or console-based games.

Computer Games can support Ubiquitous Gameplay if the devices are small enough to carry around easily. Among the first such devices were the Game & Watch games and these have been followed by many other types, e.g. the Nintendo GameBoy series, the Nintendo DS series, and the PlayStation Portable series, and most modern mobile phone (e.g. the iPhone) are gaming platforms with large ranges of games available. It should however be noted that not all, and even very few games actually, support Ubiquitous Gameplay since they require constant attention on what is happening on the game screens or do not allow game pauses. The games that do start to support Ubiquitous Gameplay when placed on mobile gaming platforms therefore tend to be Puzzle Games such as Angry Birds and Sokoban or Turn-Based Games such as the Advance Wars series.

Geocaching makes use of GPS devices and the internet to let players find caches all over the world, and this can be done at any time regardless of other players. Location-based social network such as Foursquare[2] and Gowalla[3] have gameplay elements and can therefore be seen as having Ubiquitous Gameplay.


Computer Games in general have had low Ubiquitous Gameplay, but as mentioned above this is avoided by using devices such as the Nintendo Gameboy platforms or mobile phones.

Space Alert times game events through the playing of CD tracks from a CD included in the game. This means that one has to have access to a CD player in addition to the game to play it. This put it nearly on par with Computer Games in regards to what support it requires to be playable.

Using the pattern

There are two main issues to making it possible to take part of the gameplay of a game without limiting it to specific locations or setups. One concerns how to handle the presence or lack of presences of other players and the other concerns how to handle the need for technological platforms or physical gameplay elements. A third concern which often overlaps with both of the two other concerns is the question of when one can play.

While the easiest way to avoid the issue of having several players able to play together is of course to make games into Single-Player Games. When this is not a possibility, Asynchronous Gameplay can let players be able to do gameplay actions when others are not active. This however can create Downtime for players if they have to wait for other players, and if this is perceived as a problem the ubiquitousness can be sacrificed somewhat through making the games be Tick-Based ones.

Games using some technological medium or platform inherit how well they support Ubiquitous Gameplay from these, so for games that need to use such as platform the act of designing Ubiquitous Gameplay firstly consists of selecting an appropriate medium or platform. Not requiring internet connections compared to requiring it is one example of how Ubiquitous Gameplay can be increased in a game, providing a dedicated computer instead of relying on an general-purpose one is another example (as is done by for example King Arthur). Dedicated Game Facilitators typically take the role of being both a medium for providing the gameplay and doing calculations needed for updating the game state. For this reason, having them work against Ubiquitous Gameplay. Seamful Gameplay is an approach to make use of the lack of coverage of sensing or communication technologies and gameplay mechanics, in doing so it can support Ubiquitous Gameplay when it partly existed without the pattern but is impossible to use when Ubiquitous Gameplay already exists.

Even avoiding computers and Dedicated Game Facilitators can pose problems to achieving Ubiquitous Gameplay. Depending on their numbers and their physical characteristics, Cards and Dice may be problematic for Ubiquitous Gameplay. This is typically however only an issue if custom decks of Cards or other Dice than 6-sided ones are used since otherwise it is rather easy to acquire them. The same applies to Tokens; they are easily replaceable unless they do have to convey unique attributes (glass beads are used very often as Tokens in Magic: The Gathering but not part of the actual game). The presence of Miniatures and Game Boards on the other hand often clashes with Ubiquitous Gameplay, the former due to them often being unique (and hand-painted by players) and the latter due to their size and the specificity of what is on them. (Blind Chess shows how a game can gain Ubiquitous Gameplay at the cost of requiring Memorizing).

Besides patterns concerning specific types of game elements, those concerning player ownership of them can negatively affect Ubiquitous Gameplay. Examples include Game Element Trading and Memorabilia. Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership also belongs to this group, but it does provide some support for Ubiquitous Gameplay in that players share the burden of providing the necessary game elements. That games do not need to rely on gameplay elements or make use things already in the environment can be seen through examples such as Assassin, Hide-and-Seek, Rock-Paper-Scissors, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Tag, and Twenty Questions.

However, even if the medium or platform is independent or semi-independent of place, the activity of gaming may not be. Design solutions such as Drop-In/Drop-Out, Interruptibility, and both Negotiable Game Sessions and Negotiable Play Sessions make it possible to affect when gameplay takes place and thereby avoid permanent breakdowns in game instances due to the current surroundings. Ubiquitous Gameplay is difficult to combine with Attention Demanding Gameplay since this makes it more difficult to players to chosen when to play or not. In fact, allowing Game Pauses or Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay are two opposite ways of letting players play whenever they wish and thereby solving the concern about when one can play. Real Life Activities Affect Game State makes games have more Ubiquitous Gameplay simply because other activities become gameplay and thereby make the time one does these activities into possible gameplay activities.

Another division, based on designers' intent to create games for exploratory, disruptive, or portability purposes, divides games with Ubiquitous Gameplay into ubicomp games, pervasive games, and ubiquitous games[4]). As this trichotomy shows, Ubiquitous Gameplay shares and has overlapping characteristics with other classifications of gameplay, e.g. Alternate Reality Gameplay and Pervasive Gameplay, and game designers using one may benefit from considering the requirements and possibilities of all of these.

Given that Ubiquitous Gameplay is intended to let games be played in most contexts, they offer natural possibilities to make use of both Extra-Game Input and Extra-Game Consequences.


Ubiquitous Gameplay opens up for a game to have Social Adaptability. Although not all Ubiquitous Gameplay is intended to be casual, games that include the pattern do help meet the requirement of Casual Gameplay since they make lower the thresholds for beginning to play.

Even if Ubiquitous Gameplay can be based around Extra-Game Input and Consequences, it can be more or less impossible to avoid unexpected types of Extra-Game Input and Consequences. This means that games with Ubiquitous Gameplay should be treated as instantiating these patterns in addition to being able to be modified by them, and when this makes the gameplay merge with other activities the pattern creates Pervasive Gameplay. When this makes players play games in public environments, it also makes it likely that the gameplay has Spectators, although these may or may not be aware of that a game is being played.

Tiered Participation can be created in games by having some - but not all - of the gameplay interaction available through Ubiquitous Gameplay.


Can Instantiate

Casual Gameplay, Extra-Game Consequences, Extra-Game Input, Pervasive Gameplay, Social Adaptability, Spectators, Tiered Participation

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Asynchronous Gameplay, Drop-In/Drop-Out, Game Pauses, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Interruptibility, Negotiable Game Sessions, Negotiable Play Sessions, Real Life Activities Affect Game State, Seamful Gameplay, Single-Player Games

Can Be Modulated By

Extra-Game Consequences, Extra-Game Input

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Attention Demanding Gameplay, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Boards, Game Element Trading, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, Memorabilia, Miniatures, Seamful Gameplay


Based upon the concept of Decontextability which is described in the Report on Short-Term Play Testing of Socially Adaptable Game Prototypes[5].


  1. McGonigal, J. (2005). SuperGaming: Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community. Modern Drama 48:3 (Fall 2005) 471-491.
  2. Wikipedia entry for Foursquare.
  3. Wikipedia entry for Gowalla.
  4. McGonigal, J. (2006). This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. PhD thesis in performance studies, University of California.
  5. Maria Åresund, Johan Peitz, Anu Jäppinen, Jussi Lahti, Markus Montola, Petri Lankoski, Jonas Linderoth, & Staffan Björk. Report on Short-Term Play Testing of Socially Adaptable Game Prototypes. Deliverable D9.6 of the FP6 EU project IPerG.