Are ARGs Truly Pervasive?

The reading “Games and Pervasive Games” by Montola concentrates on the idea of a pervasive game and how it “has one or more salient features that expand the contractual magic circle of play: spatially, temporally, or socially.” It distinguishes nonpervasive games like Super Mario Bros, where players step into the magic circle of an extraordinary mushroom-filled world with particular rules, from pervasive games like Killer, where the game world is synonymous with the “ordinary” world, lines are blurred between the ludic and ordinary, and the magic circle follows players wherever they choose to roam.

My question, then is if all ARGs are truly pervasive, or if, more generally, there are instances of gray areas where games can have both pervasive and nonpervasive aspects and straddle the line between both. Let’s take the example from the second reading, which discusses the ARG The Source, which “used digital storytelling, games, and emerging new media forms to explore emotional health issues, social justice, and civic responsibility, primarily with urban youth of color.” The ARG occurs from Monday to Friday through either online or on-campus aspects where students engage in games, activities, and exchanges with experts. From my perspective, this is a clear “magic circle” where kids after school enter a designated area with clearly set rules and expectations. The game stops, or rather, pauses, when students attend school or go about their daily lives during the weekend. The pervasive aspect only follows, then, through online interactions.

This, in my opinion, differs from Killer, where the magic circle never leaves the player, who needs to stay alert throughout all daily activities. I think that many ARGs strive to achieve a similar pervasiveness as Killer, though it often results in a game that has both pervasive and nonpervasive aspects. Some ARGs succeed in becoming extremely pervasive, where the player is truly convinced of his role in the world of the ARG and continues to solve puzzles and communicate via social media platforms even when they are off of designated game territories, while other ARGs struggle to maintain that sort of pervasiveness due to practical limitations.

I’m curious to see what you guys think about this topic, if you agree or disagree, or if you guys have other examples of games that have both pervasive and nonpervasive aspects. For example, is Pokemon Go a truly pervasive game? Would the example from page 76 from the “Worlding through Play” about “school as a large-scale game” or “gamified education” count as a pervasive game?

9 thoughts on “Are ARGs Truly Pervasive?

  1. As I understand it from these various examples, pervasiveness is a quality of gaming that can be varied based upon the intentions for that particular game (while also potentially being a limiting factor in different games). For instance, in the case of “gamified education”, the more restricted nature of the game may have allowed for a narrower and tighter focus on specifically academic topics within the academic environment. In contrast, a game like World Without Oil engages with a wider audience around a much more global theme, in which a higher degree of pervasiveness may prove both useful and effective.


  2. I think your question here about how pervasive games are is really interesting. I’m also really fascinated by the concept of the magic circle. I would definitely agree with you that some are more pervasive than others – Killer is a good example. Some also seem more limited to certain spaces. I think your last question about Pokemon Go is also really interesting – I normally wouldn’t have called that a pervasive game, but I suppose it could be based on the player’s dedication to it. Some players still play every day and might even alter their walking routes to reach the best spots, whereas others may have picked it up for the summer and let it die when the weather changed.

    As for gamified education, I think back to Jane McGonigal’s example of Quest to Learn. When she laid out the student’s day, it seemed like the “game” elements touched every part of her life. Of course this example is also focused on something that is expressively not a game and rather a system employing game tactics, so that might figure into our idea of whether it is pervasive or not. We might say that the gamified school’s magic circle ends when the student stops doing schoolwork of any kind, sort of like putting a game down? But I’m also not sure. If the game elements shape the student’s whole perception of life and learning, does the circle ever end?


  3. ^Sorry, that was meant to be my blog post, and now I can’t delete it!

    To respond to your own post, I agree that there is a murky line between “pervasive” and “non-pervasive” games. However, I would add that there is also a spectrum along which games, whether more or less pervasive, are perceived as pervasive by players. For example, the saying “step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back” posits a game that can exist either completely pervasively or semi-pervasively, according to the player’s psychology. For one, players may come in and out of awareness of the game, much as they do with “the game” itself. Secondly, there are varying degrees to which players see the game as viable. Some will only avoid sidewalk cracks whereas others will avoid cracks even in tiling. What I mean to say is that the burden of the game is psychological rather than structural.


  4. I also wonder how pervasive a game can be when you are involved in designing the game you are making. For instance, Jane McGonigal created SuperBetter as a game for herself, so I’m not sure how she can preserve a “this is not a game” aesthetic. Since McGonigal decides how and when SuperBetter enters her reality, it seems like she should always distinguish the lines between game and reality, so the game cannot be pervasive. At the same time, the game successfully helped her recover, even if she knew everything about its distinctions from reality.


  5. I would have never pegged Pokemon Go to be used as an example in this ARG class, but now that you brought it up, you have a good point. I never saw it as an ARG but now that I know more about what aspects create an ARG, such as the pervasiveness, I feel like it could be considered one. As an ex-Pokemon Go player, I’d walk around the park to look for the various pokemon that were scattered about. You can even interact with other players and catch the pokemon before they do. If the player really immerses themselves in the game and takes on the role of a pokemon trainer, then they’re introducing their mobile phone and the Pokemon Go app as the medium for participating in the game. Every time they open up the app, they are entering an alternate reality, the Pokemon Go world, and working to their goal of catching them all.


  6. I think that Pokemon Go is pervasive in some ways, but is not entirely pervasive. Pokemon Go allows for the incorporation of some ordinary objects and places into the game, as locations which held significance in the real world but not in the Pokemon world were eventually made to hold significance within the game world of Pokemon Go. For example, in the city where I live, the game often prompted players to travel to churches or local landmarks. Also, the game allowed players who possessed cars or bikes to gain an advantage over players who had to walk everywhere, as they could not travel as quickly. However, the game only allowed for the appropriation of some, not all, ordinary objects, so I do not think that it is completely a pervasive game.


  7. The rules of Killer and the discussion on pervasiveness in gaming remind me of UChicago’s quarterly ARG–Humans vs. Zombies. Like Killer, it requires players to conform to a set of rules, “perform” in a story and to stay inside the magic circle as soon as the game starts. It can be considered pervasive if one looks at how the game expands the magic circle and blurs one’s perception of in-game and out-game space or time. However, the game does not blur the “mental” magic circle in the way other ARGs can in that it does not involve constructing an alternate reality. One can say that the reality of the player is not much different from the reality of the non-player, that the player does not actually believe in an actual alternate reality in which zombies exist, that the boundary between real and unreal stays unchallenged as there is not an alternate reality which the game advances. I hence wonder the lack of a story is the reason behind HvZ (and possibly Killer)’s spacial and temporal pervasiveness and if an ARG can achieve pervasiveness while producing an alternate reality.


  8. I remember when, in class, Patrick had a slide that listed all the different names that and ARG can go by and how they all end up kind of referring to different things. Perhaps we can define a “pervasive game” as one that holds true to the “this is not a game aesthetic” by meshing with every part of a player’s life, while the more limited game would not fall under “pervasive game” but instead fall under the more general “ARG” category. In other words, an ARG can be pervasive or not, but not all ARG’s are pervasive games. Thinking back to the SuperBetter example, although the game did not have a thorough “this is not a game” aesthetic, it still created an alternate reality that players can use to better their own lives.

    It’s also possible I’m taking these titles of “Alternate Reality game” versus “pervasive games” (versus “transmedia games” vs “immersive games”) too literally.


  9. Your question about the gray area between pervasiveness and nonpervasiveness struck me as interesting. It seems to me as though pervasiveness is more of a spectrum across which various games fall, with some games, falling closer to the ‘pervasive’ end of the spectrum, and others falling closer to the ‘nonpervasive’ end of the spectrum. The idea of Pokémon Go as being pervasive struck me as surprising, originally, but as I thought about it, I realized that if a player was invested enough, they could conceivably bring the game into many aspects of their day-to-day lives. Games such as Quest to Learn strike me being less pervasive due to being confined to a certain space, school, by its very structure, however, if a student/player were invested enough in the narrative, they might bring it into other areas of their life, such as by working to achieve goals within the game at home through actions such as studying. This makes me think that where a game falls on the nonpervasive-pervasive spectrum, though definitely influenced by the structure of the game, is also influenced by factors such as player dedication and investment in the narrative, leading me to the conclusion that pervasiveness, rather than being a quality that is inherent in a game, comes out of the interaction between a player the structure and narrative of a game.


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