[ISEA2011] Paper: Dan Dixon – Big Games and Hipsters: Cool Capital in Pervasive Gaming Festivals


In recent years game designers have been experimenting with blending technology and the real world. These experiments sometimes go by the name of pervasive games, are sometimes called mixed-, augmented- or alternate-reality games and sometimes simply big games. One aspect that links them is that they spill out of specific mediums and particular technologies, into the physical world and back again, blurring boundaries and challenging expectations.

There has been research that addresses the games, but very little on the players and designers. Who are these people? Why do they create and play these games? This talk takes a social and cultural perspective on the formation of these groups and the festivals where these games are played. These findings are based on ethnographic field work carried out, in 2010, at Come Out and Play, Hide and Seek and Igfest; the three largest, and longest running, pervasive, street and urban game festivals.

Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is used to discuss cultures of taste and why these games appeal to certain people and not others; that aesthetics are determined by social groupings and and those groups reinforced by shared aesthetic preferences.

Pervasive and big gamers will be compared and contrasted with the now infamous subcultural group known as Hipsters, showing that although they are quite different people there are many functional similarities. Artists, designers and taste-makers from both groups have similar backgrounds and social roles and are engaged in creating cultural capital and constructing markets in cool. Specific attention is given to the emergent aesthetics that are shared between these two groups. These being a tendency towards historic referencing, intertextuality and lo-fi, appropriative design strategies.

The emergence of these groups helps us come to terms with the real world,  situated practice of these games, rather than the traditionally technologically determined rhetoric that surrounds them.

  • Dan Dixon is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Technologies at the University of the West of England, UK, where he runs their degree course in Web Design. His research revolves around the way people interact with technology and specifically the space where digital gaming and the real world mix. Currently he is working on a PhD, entitled Playing with Reality, which examines the cultural and aesthetic aspects of the nearly indefinable field of Pervasive Gaming. He is also involved in projects on gamification, augmented reality and location based gaming. Prior to moving to academia he worked in the we industry and had roles as a senior consultant with social software company Headshift, product manager for the BBC’s online communities and production director for new media agency Syzygy.   dcrc.org.uk

Full text (PDF) p. 680-684