Volume 12, Number 3

Editor's Note

Welcome to The American Journal of Play’s special issue on games, play, and urban environments, another in our series of theme issues. This special issue appears as play itself, both outdoors and indoors, has been abruptly curtailed to fit the shifting regulations and safety concerns surrounding the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. To spotlight new scholarship and offer fresh perspectives on the relationship between play and space, guest editors Sybille Lammes and Dale Leorke have gathered a series of articles exploring this spatial relationship in video game play and design. Following their guest editors’ foreword, they begin with a roundtable discussion among the authors of Pervasive Games: Theory and Design—Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern—about the evolution of pervasive games and the research it has inspired. Next, Troy Innocent and Dale Leorke take a new look at the concept of urban play, drawing on a case study of a location-based, augmented-reality game codesigned by Innocent. Hugh Davies offers an alternative cultural genealogy of Pokémon GO focused on the connections between Japan’s seasonal play and the popular augmented reality mobile game. Mia Consalvo and Andrew Phelps review the potential for game design to reveal the complex relationships between urban space, social class, and mental health through purposeful player navigation and narrative architecture. Hamza Bashandy closes the issue with an examination Minecraft’s contemporary use in community mapping and architectural design.

Guest Editors' Foreword


by Dale Leorke


In 2009, Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern published Pervasive Games: Theory and Design, based on research conducted during the Integrated Project on Pervasive Games (IPerG) and funded by the European Union (E.U.) from 2005 to 2008. They wrote it—the first book-length treatise on the topic—before the widespread use of smartphones and the ubiquitous impact of gaming on mobile devices. The work documented an era that a number of scholars came to identify as the first wave (or generation) of pervasive games. In 2019 a full decade after the book’s publication, the authors were invited to participate in a roundtable discussion as part of the Urban Play Spring Seminar event in Tampere, Finland, to reflect on the evolution of pervasive games and on the recent scholarship about them. Many of the claims Pervasive Games made, especially in relation to the design space of these kinds of games, have endured—even when such games are considered in technological and medium-specific frameworks. However, the book also featured claims and characterizations that to the authors themselves appear, in hindsight, optimistic, irrelevant, or simply inaccurate. The emerging genres of pervasive games the authors observed charted paths that later games simply did not follow, and their bold claim that commercially viable pervasive games would not compete with other games, but instead with pastimes, proved inaccurate. Even the delimitation they gave the phenomenon itself remains in flux a decade later—both the umbrella term they used for it and the types of games they included as part of it are still being negotiated. The following is a recorded and transcribed version of the roundtable discussion (including questions from the moderator Dale Leorke and the attending audience) edited for publication. It examines the validity of the term “pervasive games” in an era when games and playfulness have seemingly become ubiquitous, looks at the commercial potential of pervasive play and games, and investigates how these games can meaningfully be connected with the spaces of the cities, towns, and other environments where they are performed. Key words: alternative-reality games (ARG); Integrated Project on Pervasive Games; live-action role-playing games (LARPs); location-based games; pervasive games; urban play


by Troy Innocent and Dale Leorke


The authors use the location-based, augmented-reality game Wayfinder Live, which one of them designed, as a case study to analyze urban play. Acknowledging the difficulty of defining urban play, they expand existing approaches to the topic by drawing on current theories about interfaces, assemblages, and coding in such fields as media and cultural studies, game and play studies, and urban studies. They consider Wayfinder Live as an interface—a site of both connection and translation—for urban play, one that encourages its players to test a given city’s physical and social boundaries. They argue that the game offers a fruitful, if always contingent and contextual, framework for analyzing digitally mediated urban play. Key words: affect; assemblage; coding; decoding; encoding; interface; location-based gaming; urban play; Wayfinder Live.

by Hugh Davies


The popularity of Pokémon GO has been credited to its branding by the Japanese multinational consumer electronics and video game company Nintendo, the technological innovations of the game’s developer Niantic, and the historical traditions of European avant-garde locative play. The author, instead, offers a different explanation that involves a radical new take on Pokémon GO, pointing to its ancestry in the seasonal play of Japan. Based on his fieldwork during residencies at Studio Kura in Itoshima, Japan, and through Asialink at Tokyo Art and Space, he explores the Japanese roots of the game in insect collecting, shrine pilgrimage, leisure tourism, and stamp rallies as modes of play. He relocates the genealogy of Pokémon GO and invokes the largely untold history of Japanese seasonal play, both of which hold significant implications for the ways we consider and conceptualize pervasive and location-based games globally. Key words: asobi; insect collecting; Japanese religious pilgrimages; Japanese seasonal and location-based play; pervasive games; Pokémon GO; stamp rallies

by Mia Consalvo and Andrew Phelps


The authors provide a deep reading of the fictional small American town of Possum Springs in the 2017 adventure game Night in the Woods (NiTW) to demonstrate how game architecture and environments have become richer and more complex spaces for narrative development and storytelling. The act of navigating the game’s town, they assert, repeatedly creates its own narrative effect and commentary on the current issues of social class and mental health. They note that the game, through repetition and proceduralization, purposefully links the economic conditions of the town with the mental illness suffered by its characters and uses elements of interaction, dialogue, and exploration to highlight these issues. They conclude that NiTW offers a unique insight into the ways game designers can address complex topics through the careful and considered use of the cities, towns, architecture, and settings of the worlds their games inhabit. Key words: environmental storytelling; mental health; nodal space; procedurality; social class; spatial story telling; video games

by Hamza Bashandy


Investigating the potential of video games as an aid to community mapping and participatory architectural design, the author discusses the use of the sandbox game Minecraft by the Block by Block Foundation in collaboration with Mojang Studios, Microsoft, and UN-Habitat for three projects—Model Street (Dandora Phase 2, in Nairobi, Kenya), Mind the Step (Jardim Nakamura, in São Paulo, Brazil) and Former Marketplace (in Pristina, Kosovo). The author offers different perspectives or “lens” from which to view the projects, including as an architect (which he calls a spatial lens) and as a community member (which he dubs a player lens). Favoring agency over participant choices, he claims, the institutional forces at work can prevent true access to space making by either the foundation or the game, each of which suffers from accessibility problems for both players and the communities. He argues for a need to look more closely into the politics of the Block by Block Foundation and Minecraft and seeks to make readers explicitly aware of the systemic mechanisms of exclusion. Key words: democracy and public space; marginalized communities; Minecraft; participatory design; power hierarchies; video games

Book Reviews

by James E. Johnson

Play studies, a fairly recent field of scholarship in academe, continues to develop, and no one deserves more credit for its place on the map than does Thomas S. Henricks. If you have been a faithful reader of this journal since 2008, you are probably already quite familiar with this book’s content. Its six chapters have all appeared as articles published in AJP, appearing from the first to sixth chapters in 2014, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2020, respectively; the book’s Afterword is AJP’s interview with Thomas S. Henricks. Putting these essays together in a single volume is a great service to students of play and a testimony to the importance of this work—and I think also a wonderful way for The Strong to salute Henricks, recently retired, as our most treasured grandmaster of play studies.

by Eva Kane

For someone like me, struggling to make sense of play from an educational perspective (in my case due to initially having been trained from a “play purist” perspective), this volume about play and curriculum opened my eyes to new ways of exploring the tension between play and learning and specifically how teachers can create spaces for play.

by Melissa McInnis Brown

In Using Superheroes and Villains in Counseling and Play Therapy, Lawrence C. Rubin provides his readers with a new and updated version of his previous text, Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy (2006), by expanding the superhero metaphor to include villains. In five parts and nineteen chapters, a variety of mental health professionals—including therapists, researchers, and educators—examine the benefits of applying the superhero and villain metaphors in their clinical work with children, adolescents, and families. These professionals draw on their rich clinical experiences to describe the creative methods with which they have integrated the superhero-villain mythology into well-known, evidence-based approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral treatment, and positive psychology.

by Anna Beresin

Rethinking Recess is really two books in one, and one of them is terrific, the other fair. Half of the book makes a fine case for why recess is important for all children, synthesizing data from large-scale research studies related to policy and the inequalities present in American schooling. The amount of time and resources allocated to urban, working-class children of color as compared to their white, more affluent, and suburban peers clearly falls into the category of an urgent social-justice issue. The author makes a clear case that all children need access to recess and justifies it for emotional, physical, and social reasons.

by Ignacio Garcia

Basketball in the barrios of the Southwest is as old as or older than futbol—soccer— and played more than any other sport. In San Antonio, Mexican Americans were playing high school ball in the 1920s, and city leagues composed mostly of these young players on numerous other teams from the city, the region, and even outside the state. In fact, a number of all-Mexican American teams actually won national titles in Mexico where the game was also widely popular. One young man from San Antonio was even recruited to play for the Mexican Olympic team, though he eventually had to decline the offer.

by Talmadge Wright

With a diverse array of writing, Games: Conflict, Competition, and Cooperation brings together researchers from academic fields such as organizational ethnography, international security and strategy, sports, behavioral ecology, law, humanities, criminal justice, clinical neuropsychology, psychiatry, and public policy. There is also a piece by a former cabinet minister of the United Kingdom. Derived from the 2016 lecture series conducted by the University of Cambridge’s Darwin College, this many-faceted exploration of the nature of games has much to offer both the novice and the professional.

by Víctor Navarro-Remesal

In Playing Nature: Ecology in Video Games, Alenda Y. Chang has written a book that feels complete and focused, but more importantly urgent and thorough. Chang combines a vast array of methodologies and theoretical framings both from environmental studies and game studies and interrogates how best to combine them and their way forward.

Hamza Bashandy is an architect and a doctoral researcher at the Liege Game Lab and the architectural research group DIVA at the University of Liege in Bel- guim. His current research project examines the representation of maps, space, and architecture in video games. Focusing on marginalized and disenfranchised communities, the project investigates the use of video games in serving groups such as protesters in public spaces, active community members, and forcibly displaced peoples to chart their own spaces.

Mia Consalvo is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the coauthor of Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames and Players and Their Pets: Gaming Communities from Beta to Sunset. She is also coeditor of Sports Videogames and the Handbook of Internet Studies and the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames and Atari to Zelda: Japan’s Videogames in Global Context. Consalvo runs the mLab, a space dedicated to developing innovative methods for studying games and game players. She is a member of the Centre for Technoculture, Art, and Games (TAG), and she has presented her work at industry and academic conferences including regular presentations at the Game Developers Conference. Andrew Phelps is an artist and professor at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory within the College of Engineering at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is also a professor in the Film and Media Arts division of the School of Communication, holds a joint appointment in the Department of Computer Science, and is the director of the GameLab at American University in Washington, DC. Phelps is also currently president of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA). He has presented his research at numerous academic conferences, and his work has appeared in many books and journals. His latest game is Fragile Equilibrium.

Hugh Davies is an interdisciplinary researcher, producer, and curator. He explores practices of playful engagement in the Asia Pacific Region. Davis’s study of play structures and game cultures has been supported with fellowships from Tokyo Art and Space, M+ Museum of Visual Culture, and the Hong Kong Design Trust. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in Design and Creative Practice at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Davies acknowledges help from Dale Leorke, Luke Van Ryan, Christian McCrea, Jasmin Keogh, Tim Greer (Japanese sources), and Yoko Nakazawa (Japanese translations) in producing his article.

Troy Innocent is a play scholar, artist game maker, and VC Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University. His creative practice research originated in digital media poetics and visual language, and this informs his current investigation into the impact of urban play on culture and society. Innocent develops augmented-reality games that blend physical objects with digital interfaces to reimagine everyday urban environments in playful ways. He is particularly interested in creative strategies that appropriate urban infrastructure, explore the role of urban play in adaptation and survival, and ways of being that enable reimagination, reconnection, and reconfiguration of the world. Dale Leorke is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at Tampere University, Finland. His research focuses on the role of games and play within the cultural and economic development of cities. He is the author of Location-Based Gaming: Play in Public Space, the coauthor of Public Libraries in the Smart City, and the coeditor of Games and Play in the Creative, Smart, and Ecological City.

Sybille Lammes is Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at The Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her background is in media studies and play studies, which she has always approached from an interdisciplinary angle, including playful and creative methods in mapping and media practices. She is coeditor of Playful Identities, Time for Mapping, The Routledge Handbook of Interdisciplinary Research Methods, and The Playful Citizen. She is a European Research Council laureate and has been the principal investigator of numerous research projects including the recent Past at Play Lab.

Markus Montola is a Helsinki-based mobile game designer and a cofounder of Playsome. He has worked as a designer on games such as The Walking Dead: Our World and Shadow Cities. During his research career, he worked on location-based games, role-playing games, and LARP. He has produced books such as Pervasive Games: Theory and Design and Nordic LARP. Jaakko Stenros is a University Lecturer in Game Studies working at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at Tampere University. He has published books, numerous articles, and reports and has taught game studies for a decade. Stenros studies play and games, and his research interests include norm-defying play, game jams, queer play, role-playing games, pervasive games, game rules, and playfulness. Stenros has also collaborated with artists and designers to create ludic experiences, and he has curated exhibitions at the Finnish Museum of Games. Annika Waern is a professor in Human Computer Interaction at Uppsala University in Sweden. She is a Digital Games Research Association scholar and a fellow of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance. Her current interests include research on pervasive play from a HCI perspective, with a focus on children’s play, physical training, and museum experiences.