An investigation of ambient gameplay

  • Mark Eyles

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Inspired by Brian Eno's ambient music, which is persistent and supports different levels of engagement, this research explores ambient gameplay in computer, video and pervasive games. Through the creation of original games containing ambient gameplay and looking for ambient gameplay in existing commercial games, this research focuses on gameplay that supports a range of depths of player engagement. This research is not concerned with ambient intelligent environments or other technologies that might support ambience, but focusses on gameplay mechanisms.

The definition of ambient music is used as a starting point for developing a tentative set of properties that enable ambient gameplay. A game design research methodology is initially used. Two very different research games, Ambient Quest (using pedometers) and Pirate Moods (using RFID, radio-frequency identification, technology) are analysed. The resulting qualitative ambient gameplay schema contains themes of persistence, discovery, engagement, invention, ambiguity and complexity. In order to confirm the wider applicability of this result a case study of an existing commercial game, Civilization IV, is undertaken. Ambient gameplay properties of engagement, complexity, abstraction, persistence and modelessness identified in Civilization IV, and other commercial games, are combined with the ambient gameplay schema to develop a definition of ambient gameplay. This definition is the basis for a set of investigative lenses (lenses of persistence, attention, locative simultaneity, modelessness, automation and abstraction) for identifying ambient gameplay.

This research creates a deeper understanding of computer games and hence gives game designers new ways of developing richer gameplay and gives games researchers new ways of viewing and investigating games.
Date of AwardSept 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorDaniel Mcguire Pinchbeck (Supervisor), Steve Hand (Supervisor) & Roger Eglin (Supervisor)

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