Pervasive Play: Make Believe as Method

Thursday, March 22, 2018

10:00 AM11:30 AM

Hazelbaker Hall (Wells E159)

Pervasive play encompasses games and other playful experiences that intentionally breach the boundary separating the real world from the fictional world. Unlike a video game in which the user interface tightly circumscribes the play space, a pervasive game encroaches upon and colonizes everyday media, platforms, and locales, such as books, social networking sites, billboards, and libraries. Year Zero (2007), an alternate reality game (ARG) created by the rock band Nine Inch Nails in collaboration with 42 Entertainment; and S. (2013), a novel-based transmedia fiction conceived by the television and film producer J.J. Abrams are notable exemplars of the genre.

Because the magic circle that encloses play is so porous in pervasive games, they often give rise tometalepsis: a collapse of the hierarchical relationship that normally obtains between reality and make believe. Classic metaleptic moments in film include Ferris Bueller breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Alvy Singer pontificating to the viewer about Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall.

This talk will explore the role and implications of metalepsis for pervasive game design, participatory design, and mixed-method research. Adopting a case study approach, the lecturer will introduce DUST, an educational alternate reality game (ARG) for teens that ran live for 10 weeks in early 2015. A joint endeavor between Brigham Young University and the University of Maryland in partnership with NASA and Tinder Transmedia, DUST created many open channels for players to react to and experiment with metalepsis. They created social networks that included both real people and fictional characters; moved back and forth between fictional and scientific inquiry; invoked the fictional status of the game from within the game; and responded to questionnaires administered by both academic researchers and fictional characters. From the vantage point of research, this push-pull relationship between the imaginary and the real presents unique challenges and opportunities for data collection and analysis, learning assessment, and knowledge transfer. Throughout the talk, gender differences associated with how players shape, experience, and negotiate metaleptic structures will also be highlighted. Although metalepsis is generally understood as an aesthetic phenomenon, this talk will also briefly examine its larger social, psychological, and civic import.

Remote Access to this workshop The workshop will be broadcast live via Zoom. Go to to view and listen. (Instructions: At IU, what is Zoom, and how do I know how to use it? [UITS KB]; or, How do I join a Zoom meeting? [vendor documentation])