A grounded theory of emergent benefit in pervasive game experiences

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The phenomenon of pervasive games is a relatively new and unexplored area of games research. These are games that, unlike card, computer, or board games, incorporate elements from outside the perceived boundaries of play, in order to blur the line between reality and fiction and make the game feel more ‘real’. This thesis investigates the player experience of pervasive games, using a novel approach that is informed by the methodology of Glaserian Grounded Theory (Glaser 1978; 1998) in order to clarify understanding and explore issues that players of pervasive games would be likely to encounter. Following a discussion of various themes such as player interpretation, creative play, ambiguity in games and the ‘magic circle of play’, and guided by the preparatory work of the researcher, SF0 (www.sf0.org) is identified as a particularly suitable example of a pervasive game to use for an in-depth study. 24 players of SF0 are interviewed about the gameplay process, and their responses are analysed using the methods implied by Grounded Theory. A theory evolves regarding their experiences, namely that SF0 is providing the means and motive to take part in everyday activities that they somehow could not, or might not, have done before. In particular, SF0 is helping players to be artistic, outgoing and wise. Informed by the methodology, no formal literature review is conducted prior to the main study, therefore the literature is mainly consulted after theory generation in order to more widely situate the results in the context of games literature. Real-world benefit, such as that promoted by ‘serious games’, appears to be emerging from the gameplay in SF0, despite SF0 not appearing to be marketed as a serious game. This unexpected outcome is discussed in terms of implicit rules (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004), player satisfaction, knowledge transfer, and emergence (Johnson, 2001). It is suggested that one explanation for this outcome is the positive attitude SF0 holds towards contradictions in implicit rules which occur from player-to-player. It is recommended that the future study of emergent benefit in games should not be limited to the games overtly labelled as serious games.
Date of AwardApr 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorRoger Eglin (Supervisor), Brett Stevens (Supervisor) & Daniel Mcguire Pinchbeck (Supervisor)

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