Experiencing Diversities. Designing Hybrid Reality Games as Communication Systems
Location Based Mobile Games (LBMGs) offer the possibility to navigate in hybrid spaces (de Souza Silva 2006), bridging digital and physical spheres through communication and mobility. LBMGs are engaging activities that give players the chance – as well as the reasons – to explore uncommon and original paths in their environment and to perceive well-known places in a different way initiated by the fictional layer and the game mechanics overlapping the everyday spaces (Montola et al. 2009). Additionally, LBMG applications are broad and versatile enough to cover several issues. Through their narrative and gameplay, games can for example retrieve historical situated meaning, recover local traditions and culture, and/or empower social as well as civic action (Flanagan 2009; Flanagan & Nissenbaum 2014; Ruiz, Stokes & Watson 2012; Bertolo, Mariani 2014). Through LBMGs it is possible to modify the environmental perception, acquire knowledge, and also reconsider behavioural patterns (Frith 2013; Gazzard 2011).
The increasing availability and user-friendliness of free game-editors that allow people to create their own LBMGs (as ARIS 2.0, that will be used during the workshop) empower game designers but also citizens/amateurs to take part in the creative process of shaping urban experiences reflecting how they want players to perceive a certain environment, its elements and meanings. In so doing, such tools provide a crucial step in yielding participation by action in a performative culture perspective (Volbers 2014).
According to the researches conducted by Kaufman, Flanagan, and Seidman (2016) , those games that address serious issues in a straight, literal, and explicit way are less effective and “less likely to succeed” in affecting attitudes or behaviors than those games that “stealthy” embed messages in their gameplay or narrative. Otherwise, by adopting the strategies of intermixing, obfuscating or distancing, persuasive contents can be included avoiding the rise of players’ psychological defenses, but prompting a more receptive and open state of mind that results into a more favourable condition for receiving contents - without renouncing to enjoyment, or affecting/preventing the game’s replayability. Summarizing the model presented by Kaufman, Flanagan, and Seidman (2016) , intermixing means balancing “on-message” and “off-message” content, obfuscating consists of diverting or focusing away players’ expectations, and distancing is intended to adopt fiction and metaphor to increase the distance between players and the ontents the game addresses.
Capitalizing on this strategical approach and counting on the capacity of narrative-based games to immerse players into play experiences that are meaningful, this workshop will cover the topic of diversity in a broad and extended sense.
In this course we investigate how to conceptualise and design interactive LBMGs on the topic of diversity, such as:
1. Disabilities (Mental or Physical)
2. Cultural Issues (Gender, Intergenerational Dialogue, Custom & Habits, …)
3. Others [suggested by students]
Students, split into working teams, will develop LBMGs that address social impact topics, employing the free online editor and app ARIS: http://arisgames.org .
It is required to get familiar with the tool in advance – before the beginning of the course!
Students will learn to design hybrid-space experiences sharing their own perspective with the topic. Thereby they will have a hands-on experience of how games can be powerful communication systems that can successfully address a different range of topics, such as social issues (Ackermann & Mariani 2015). Reaching out to interdisciplinary fields as ethnography and sociology, game studies and media studies, the workshop intends to dig into the diverse elements and processes beyond the design of what is known as “meaningful play experience”.
Hence, the aim of this course is to explore what it means to design LBMGs raising awareness towards diversity.
Students will undergo the entire design process on the ground of these games. From designing the concept to the development and assessment of these games. Accordingly, its primary contributions in terms of knowledge are:
1. A theoretical learning acquired by in situ lectures and by reading the provided selection of scientific literature
2. A practice-based learning acquired throughout the entire game design activity as an iterative process, from crafting the first ideas, to assessing the final game’s effectiveness in terms of playability and meaning transfer.
Workshop Format and Learning Modes
The workshop includes participative lecture sessions where contents will come from the collective critical discussion of the mandatory four short-readings in the bibliography. This results into an overview of the theories on the ground of LBMGs; theory will be supported by relevant case studies and some of the results we collected over the years.
Therefore, to achieve its aims and to develop working LBMGs, the workshop combines critical analysis of (1) existing case studies, (2) literature and (3) operative tools, useful for designers who design games and are willing to unpack their effectiveness as communication systems. Students, split into groups, will go through a first-hand experience of the design process, likely to result into scientific reflection of the fields of design and learning with the help of methodological tools.
Ackermann, J. & Mariani, I. (2015). “Re-thinking the environment through games. Designing Location Based Mobile Games in higher Education For Environmental Awareness”, in INVOLEN conference proceedings . Available at:
_THROUGH_GAMES._DESIGNING_LOCATION_BASED_MOBILE_GAMES_IN_HIGHER_EDUCATION_FOR_ENVIRONMENTAL_AWARENESS Mariani, I. (2016). “Games telling stories of and for social innovation”, in Bertolotti E., Daam H., Piredda F. &
Tassinari V., The Pearl Diver: the designer as storyteller. DESIS Philosophy Talks: Storytelling & Design for Social Innovation. Milano: DESIS Network. Available at:
Ackermann, J. (2014): Meaning creation in digital gaming performances. The intra-ludic communication of Hybrid Reality Theatre. Dichtung Digital. Journal für Kunst und Kultur digitaler Medien , 44, 2014. Available at:
Kaufman, G., Flanagan, M., & Seidman, M. (2016). Creating Stealth Game Interventions for Attitude and Behavior Change: An “Embedded Design" Model. Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association, 2 (3). Available at:
References cited in the syllabus
Bertolo, M., & Mariani, I. (2014). Game Design. Gioco e giocare tra teoria e progetto . Pearson.
de Souza e Silva, A. (2006). From cyber to hybrid: mobile technologies as interfaces of hybrid spaces. Space & Culture, 9
(3), 261-278. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1206331206289022 (free access under polimi wi-fi).
Frith, J. (2013). Turning life into a game: Foursquare, gamification, and personal mobility. Mobile Media & Communication, 1 (2), 248-262.
Montola, M., Stenros, J., & Waern, A. (2009). Pervasive Games: Theory and Design . Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Flanagan, M. (2009). Critical Play: Radical Game Design . MIT press.
Flanagan, M., & Nissenbaum, H. (2014). Values at Play in Digital Games . Mit Press.
Gazzard, A. (2011): Location, location, location: Collecting space and place in mobile media. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17 (4), 405-417.
Ruiz, S., Stokes, B., & Watson, J. (2012). Mobile and Locative Games in the Civic Tripod: Activism, Art and Learning. International Journal of Learning and Media, 3
(3). Available at:
Volbers, J. (2014). Performative Kultur . Eine Einführung. Springer VS.