[ISEA2011] Paper: Dale Leorke – Play and Counterplay in Urban Spaces: Exploiting the City through Location-based Gaming


Over the last 5 years or so, there has been growing scholarly interest in the potential for players of mainstream, commercial videogames to intervene in or ‘exploit’ the algorithmic architecture or code which structures gameplay. In particular the concepts of counterplay and countergaming are used to characterise gameplay practices that run counter to the intentions of their designers. In this paper, I argue that these terms also provide useful categories for evaluating the objectives of ‘location-based games’ which aim to challenge and disrupt the policies and rules imposed by the authorities of cities and public space. Location-based games use networked technologies such as mobile phones, WiFi, GPS tracking, and smart phones to enact fictional game scenarios and rules within a physical location – the streets, shopping centres, and public spaces of cities. Although they have not come remotely close to matching the popularity or commercial revenue of the mainstream videogame industry, location-based games occupy a notable niche with their goal of taking games to the streets and embedding them within the public spaces of cities and urban areas.

With a few exceptions, most studies of location-based games have focused on their potential to ‘disrupt’ public spaces and extend digital gameplay into the physical environment. As a result, they overlook the formal elements of the game itself and the relationship between participants of location-based games, established via ‘rules’ imposed on them both by the goals of the game as well as the material conditions of the physical locations in which they take place. In this paper, I argue that Alexander Galloway’s claim that videogames can be read as ‘allegories for our contemporary life under the protocological network of…’control’ (2006: 106) can be extended and adapted to location-based gaming projects, and explore the implications the concepts of counterplay and countergaming may have for studies of locative media and urban play.

  • Dale Leorke, University of Melbourne, Australia