What is Pervasive Play?

HCI researchers have examined technology-mediated games and play since the early days of HCI [14]. Increasing interest has led to the recent creation of the CHI Play conference and student game design competition, amongst other ventures. Research has examined the design [10] and evaluation [9] of games, playful experiences incorporating a range of technologies and artifacts [11], and the efficacy of games in various domains like health and learning [19].

In this workshop, we focus on pervasive play. Pervasive play involves technology-mediated, playful experiences that are interwoven throughout our everyday lives and the physical and virtual spaces we inhabit. Pervasive play blends the physical and virtual worlds and blurs the line between fiction and reality. It transforms our existing places, relationships, and technologies into platforms for gameplay. In the words of Montola, Stenros, and Waern, pervasive games (which we broaden to play) include “one or more salient features that expand the contractual magic circle of play spatially, temporally, or socially” [18].

Pervasive play includes, but is not limited to, genres such as location-based games, augmented and alternate reality games, ubiquitous and urban games, playful public displays, transmedia storytelling, social networking games, and serious games that promote exercise, familial relationships, or cultural exploration. With the continued proliferation of mobile devices, public displays, and other forms of ubiquitous technologies, it is likely that games and play will increasingly allow people to interact with others and their surroundings in new and interesting ways.

Related and Inspirational Research

Pervasive play has been examined from many perspectives. Early foundational work defined pervasive play as a domain of inquiry [2,18] and demonstrated experimental games and interactive performances (e.g., Blast Theory and the Mixed Reality Lab’s Uncle Roy All Around You,” “Desert Rain,” and “Can You See Me Now?” [3,6]). Empirical case studies by CHI designers and researchers [21] and experts in performance art and game design [16] have examined how live action role-playing (LARP) and alternate reality games (ARGs) immerse players in believable, mixed reality game worlds through various combinations of physical play and transmedia experiences.

Studies have investigated the ways in which designers can orchestrate players through various trajectories of interaction and engagement (e.g., temporal trajectories, canonical vs. participant trajectories) [3], and proposed design patterns for sustaining the replayability of pervasive play experiences [12]. They have also explored new techniques for developing [7] and prototyping [5] pervasive games. Beyond CHI, humanities and social science researchers are exploring the ways in which pervasive play activities and distributed narratives motivate players to develop their own sense-making and knowledge production practices [8].

Moving forward, we see the potential for radically new forms of play enabled by the ubiquity of mobile devices, sensors, and social media coupled with new interfaces, displays, and transmedia practices.

The Importance to CHI

This workshop will build on the solid foundation of prior research, while exploring new possibilities for pervasive play that have emerged in recent years. Our workshop has three primary goals: community building, the exploration of promising research and design frameworks for pervasive play, and the articulation of future research directions including research questions, methods, and challenges. Meeting these three objectives will assure that the CHI community stays at the center of pervasive play research and design.

Despite the strong HCI focus on games, and even pervasive play, relevant work is published in disparate venues and a strong sense of community amongst researchers and practitioners is lacking. We believe the interdisciplinary nature of CHI makes it an ideal hub for bringing together such a community and setting an agenda in this critical growth area. Periodic workshops on pervasive and mixed-reality games in related venues (e.g., CHI Play, CSCW) have demonstrated continued interest in this topic, while also pointing out the need to reach a broader group of CHI researchers and practitioners. With a focus on pervasiveness as a feature, there is ripe opportunity to develop deeper collaborations between designers of playful experiences and domain experts across the social sciences and humanities.


We have organized our workshop themes under the following three categories (inspired by [18]):

Theory Development

  • Frameworks describing core characteristics, mechanics, and genres of pervasive play
  • Research methods for studying pervasive play
  • Theoretical constructs related to pervasive play and related concepts
  • Historical roots of pervasive play
  • Comparative analyses of pervasive games & play
  • Narratological perspectives on transmedia design


  • Mobile and augmented reality technologies that support context-aware games
  • Design of interactive wearable technologies that extend social and spatial boundaries of existing games and play experiences
  • Novel interaction techniques appropriate for pervasive play
  • Game mechanics and design patterns that support pervasive games and play experiences
  • Pervasive game teardowns and case studies
  • Techniques for developing and prototyping pervasive play experiences
  • Toolkits for supporting pervasive play experiences
  • Application areas for pervasive play with positive social, physical, scientific, or educational purposes
  • Opportunities and challenges that arise from bringing pervasive games into everyday life
  • International and cross-cultural perspectives on pervasive play


  • Application areas for pervasive play with positive social, physical, scientific, or educational purposes
  • Opportunities and challenges that arise from bringing pervasive games into everyday life
  • International and cross-cultural perspectives on pervasive play