Pervasive Gameplay

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Gameplay that can co-exist or merge with other activities.

The archetypical view of gaming activities are as being separated from other "ordinary" activities (which can be seen in the metaphor of the magic circle[1] that has been more extensively in later work of understanding games[2]). This is however not true of all games, in some cases because they can rather easily co-exist with other activities and in other cases because the game design makes "ordinary" activities into gameplay actions. Both types of game have Pervasive Gameplay.

For more information about Pervasive Gameplay, although based upon a slightly different usage of pervasive to define pervasive games, see Pervasive Games - Theory and Design[3]. Note also that while ubiquitous and pervasive are used as synonyms, the patterns Pervasive Gameplay and Ubiquitous Gameplay are defined to describe different aspects of gameplay in this pattern collection.


Car Numberplate Games are examples of games that are specifically made to make car travelling more enjoying. Insectopia and Pirates! do the same but can more generally merge with other types of activities. Assassin also does this but since the actual killings can disrupt other activities there are typically safe places and safe hours in the game instances.

Alternate Reality Games with roleplaying components, e.g. Momentum and Prosopopeia, need to be designed so that players can combine their roleplaying with their everyday social interactions, or with relative little friction move between social roles.

Using the pattern

Designing Pervasive Gameplay consists of considering what other activities can be used to piggyback gameplay activities and considering how to avoid gameplay activities that disrupt other activities. How disruptive activities are naturally depend on their nature but also on which other activities also take place at any given place; it is however worth noticing that Physical Navigation can easily merge with other activities as long as is done at the same speed as other movement. Generally, having Ubiquitous Gameplay makes it easier to support Pervasive Gameplay since limiting the dependency on dedicated places and equipment making it easy for the gameplay activity to be able to co-exist with other activities. Since it may not be possible to make a game work with all types of other activities, one solution is to limit the Pervasive Gameplay to function with some activities but avoid conflicts with other activities. This can be done through designating Safe Havens (this is typically done in Assassin) or through supporting Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay. Momentum and Prosopopeia used this to handle situations where one no longer could roleplay being a ghost that had possessed the player. The fact that other activities may occur together with the Pervasive Gameplay typically offers easy ways of making the activities affect the gameplay through Extra-Game Input. While Interruptibility makes it possible to have pause gameplay when it would disturb other activities, this in itself is only a solution for slow-paced games.

For games that rarely require interaction from the players, co-existing with other activities depend more making players be at the locations where these activities take places rather than make the activities possible to occur simultaneously. The prime way of doing this is to use Real World Gameplay Spaces or Hybrid Gameplay Spaces, which can easily be constructed through the use of Physical Navigation, typically through the Artifact-Location Proximity, Player-Artifact Proximity, Player-Location Proximity, or Player-Player Proximity patterns.


Games with Pervasive Gameplay are either likely to at least take partially place in public environment or be explicitly designed to do so. For this reason, they are likely to make use of Real World Gameplay Spaces, be viewable by Spectators, and instantiate Events Timed to the Real World simply because real world events will likely affect gameplay. Pervasive Gameplay is an enabler for Alternate Reality Gameplay since they by definition are able to co-exist with other activities and thereby can hide or merge with these activities.

While some types Extra-Game Input may explicitly be designed as part of Pervasive Gameplay, other types of Extra-Game Input may be difficult to avoid because the game design cannot control the gameplay context as well as for other types of games where no other activities are supposed to co-exist with the game activity.


Freedom of Choice Decontextability Extra-Game Input Player-Location Proximity

Can Instantiate

Alternate Reality Gameplay, Events Timed to the Real World, Extra-Game Input, Real World Gameplay Spaces, Spectators

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Artifact-Location Proximity, Hybrid Gameplay Spaces, Interruptibility, Physical Navigation, Player-Artifact Proximity, Player-Location Proximity, Player-Player Proximity, Real World Gameplay Spaces, Ubiquitous Gameplay

Can Be Modulated By

Drop-In/Drop-Out, Extra-Game Input, Safe Havens

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



Based upon the concept of Activity Blending which is described in the Report on Short-Term Play Testing of Socially Adaptable Game Prototypes[4].


  1. Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo Ludens. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955, p. 10.
  2. Salen, K. & Zimmerman (2004). Rules of Play - Game Design Fundamentals. MIT Press.
  3. Montola, M., Stenros, J. & Waern, A. (2009) Pervasive Games - Theory and Design. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
  4. 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.