Scalable Pervasive Games for Natural Disaster Preparation

Pervasive games are a new genre of computer game played on mobile devices in the everyday locations we inhabit. With them come a new way for people to socialize, interact, understand places and locations, and engage in various aspects of community. The challenge, however, is we still do not know how to best design pervasive games to fully engage game players such that they can find new ways of exploring and understanding aspects of their culture and geographical situation.
One specific challenge that exists with many pervasive games is the creation and orchestration of game content and activities. By creation, we mean the construction and placement of game content. By orchestration, we are referring to the monitoring of players’ activities in the game, and the quality and continued availability of game content, to ensure that play proceeds smoothly for players. Orchestration involves actively monitoring players to ensure they stay out of harm’s way and continue to participate in the game. Here the orchestration needs are highly dynamic as the physical constraints of the game appear unbounded to the player, as do the rules (i.e., who to interact with). In general, game creation and orchestration in pervasive games is crucial to a game’s success. If it is done poorly, players may not enjoy the game or may be at risk; perhaps, even worse, non-players who do not realize they are part of a game as bystanders may be at risk. Pragmatically, challenges with creation and orchestration also mean that pervasive games are often “one offs” and only available in a single location or conducted over a short period of time, never to be run again. As a result, participation is limited or game players cannot continue to play like they might computer or online games. Our interest is in understanding how pervasive games can be designed to be scalable. By scalable, we are referring to a game’s ability to be: 1) played and orchestrated over long periods of time in a variety of locations, and 2) played by a large number of players (e.g., hundreds or thousands of people).
This project explores how scalable pervasive games can be designed for players to learn about and share knowledge between family, friends, and community members related to impending and potential natural disasters. For example, it looks at how Vancouver residents can learn about emergency preparedness for a potential major earthquake and how they can share their knowledge with family and friends to help them prepare as well. We will design a prototype of a pervasive game that utilizes design elements that will potentially make the game scalable and then evaluate the game through actual play by end users. The outcome will be a broader understanding of what game elements promote scalability (e.g., narrative, game mechanics, group play) and how these aspects affect game play experiences in the setting of natural disaster preparedness.

Faculty Supervisor:

Carman Neustaedter






Simon Fraser University


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