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When the mobile reacts to the context

When the mobile reacts to the context

Rome – Entertainment products for mobile phones are made mainly for two factors, the first of which is undoubtedly economic and commercial: the mobile phone is in all probability the technology with the greatest market penetration. At the same time, numerous designers and researchers in game studies have chosen to accept the technological limitations of mobile platforms in order to exploit the expressive potential deriving from their widespread diffusion and from the security with which they are used even by users who are not very competent from an IT point of view. .

The path that seems most promising for the development of mobile applications that are expressive from a playful point of view is that of pervasive entertainment – a type of entertainment that uses the phone to connect users / players with other elements that are physically present in the world. real. In other words, the strong idea behind pervasive entertainment is to overcome the limitations deriving from the few contents that can be loaded in advance into a small mobile game using elements that, since they already exist in the real external world of the software, they must not be contained within it.

As examples of pervasive entertainment I will present a game, Insectopia, and an application, LocoBlog, both demonstrated in the past few days in Salzburg at the International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment.

Insectopia is an already playable product – a beta version can be downloaded for free – developed by the Interactive Institude, the University of Gothenburg and the Hypermedia Laboratory. The concept behind Insectopia effectively shows the potential of pervasive gaming: the player plays an insect collector and must manage and embellish their collection.

What makes this game out of the ordinary is that the capture of insects is not staged within the video game, it is not a Super Mario video game in which the player’s avatar chases prey to catch them. On the contrary, the search and capture of insects takes place in the real world: when the player chooses to start a “hunting” session, Insectopia activates the bluetooth function of the mobile phone and begins to probe the vicinity in search of other devices equipped with the same technology. . Each bluetooth transmitter can be identified by a code, similar to the MAC address of a network card, which uniquely identifies it. Insectopia assigns an insect type to different sets of bluetooth identifiers and shows the player which prey is nearby. Each insect in the collection “dies” after a week and, to keep it in their collection, the player must recapture it: this means searching again for the same bluetooth transmitter that was found a week earlier.

The feedback that the Insectopia developers received from the early beta testers was positive on several levels. In addition to appreciating the fact that this type of game is enjoyable both if you are an assiduous player, always looking for new “insects”, as if you prefer to play sporadically, activating the search function only when you have a boring free moment. The interviews conducted by the designers of Insectopia show that a considerable percentage of the players say they enjoyed looking for insects in places they would not otherwise go, for example train stations, libraries, shopping centers but also photo shops that use bluetooth transmitters to print. photographs stored on cell phones.

The other notable example of pervasive entertainment presented at ACE2007 is LocoBlog, an application that can be run on cell phones that can interface with or have a GPS receiver integrated into them. LocoBlog, whose beta version can be downloaded at www.locoblog.com, integrates the functions of Google Maps and those of Flickr, allowing users to create travel diaries in which each photo or each text is associated with geographical coordinates. of the place where it was written. The public entries of the LocoBlog are projected on a map generated using the Google Maps API, creating a representation of the user’s movements that can be consulted on the LocoBlog site.

Both of these software applications are still not very advanced, but they show what the reciprocal influences between mobile entertainment and the physical context in which it is used may be in the future, towards an ever greater overlap between the real world and the videogame one.

Gabriele Ferri
G. Ferri, semiotic of interaction, is co-founder of Studio Semioticamente

GF’s previous interventions are available at this address