Mark Eyles - Research Pages
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Playful ambience

Paper for the DiGRA 2011 Conference, 14th-17th September 2011 at Utrecht School of the Arts, Hilversum, Netherlands:

Playful_Ambience_Eyles_Pinchbeck_final.pdf (Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, 941KB)


This research started in 2004 as a search for a pervasive game equivalent of Brian Eno's ignorable ambient music, such as 'Music for Airports'. Brian Eno explicitly stated that the attention of listeners might alter over time, from ignoring to listening intently to the music; the ambient music pervading an environment and creating a mood, "it must be as ignorable as it is interesting" (Eno, 1978) Listeners might come across the music and then choose to what extent they engage with it. Defining ambience, and ambient properties, was particularly challenging. The concept of ambience, especially when applied to games, was not immediately clear. Building on the definition of ambience developed by Brian Eno for music (ibid.), fundamental properties of ambience as applied to games were posited. These properties included ideas of different levels of engagement by players, different levels of affect, persistence of the game when players are not present and the context of the game (where, when, who).

The game design research methodology (Dishman, 2003; Eglin, Eyles, & Dansey, 2008; Eyles, 2008b; Zimmerman, 2003) developed for this research was used with phenomenological methods (Krzywinska, 2005; Mallon, 2006) to determine the experience of players and hence throw light on the fundamental nature of games and ambient gameplay.

Following research into experimental games (M. Eyles, Eglin, R., 2007a, 2007b) which were designed to contain high degrees of ambience as previously (theoretically) defined it became clear that many existing commercial games contain some ambient (sometimes emergent) properties. They are not designed to be played ambiently, but have properties that facilitate ambient play (see ambient properties above). The research with experimental ambient games enabled the development of a phenomenologically predicated ambient lens through which these existing games could be viewed. This lens was then further refined by considering the ambience of both the experimental and the commercial games; finally arriving at a description of key features of ambient play. Constant comparisons within and between different data, and back to definitions of musical ambience, were used to ensure rigor (Glaser, 1978).

This paper focuses on the findings of this research into ambience in games, delivering a succinct and far reaching schema of ambience that has not only been applied to existing games but has some important implications for the design of future games, throwing new light on the experience of game players and in particular of the inventive, collaborative and ambiguous nature of game playing.

The applications of this research are wide reaching, in particular due to the 'gamification' (Campbell, 2011; McGonigal, 2011; Schell, 2010) of many products and services. For example, the awarding of points and rewards for use of online shops (such as Ebay) and the vine growing display of the Ford Fusion Hybrid car to denote driving efficiency (hypermilling) (Squatriglia, 2009). These applications of game mechanisms are pervasive, having many similarities to the ambient gameplay investigated in this research. The findings of this research into ambient play within games clearly indicate elements and approaches that could enhance the experience of gamified products and applications. Further this research offers a new way of looking at games, including both pervasive and commercial video games.

Using an RFID game to phenomenologically test a theoretical systemic model for describing ambient games

Paper for the DiGRA 2009 Conference, 1st-4th September 2009 at Brunel University, United Kingdom:

Using an RFID game to phenomenologically test a theoretical systemic model for describing ambient games (Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, 941KB)

Look at the 'slides' page for the presentation slides that go with this paper.


Imagine what Brian Eno's genre defining 1978 album Music for Airports (Eno, 1978) would be if it were a game. The game might produce a mood in an environment; the player able to dip in and out of play, which could be facilitated by not having to carry gaming devices, allowing periods of disengagement from the game. The player's everyday actions would generate data to move the game forward, causing game events. However, it should also be possible for the player to change their behaviour in order to participate more actively in the game, varying their involvement with the game from intense engagement to forgetting they are even playing. The proposed game would span both real and virtual worlds, with player actions in the real world affecting events in the virtual world. We have named this imagined game genre ‘ambient games' (M. Eyles & Eglin, 2007a). Ambient games may be considered a type of pervasive game (‘a radically new game form that extends gaming experiences out into the physical world' (Waern, 2006)) in which the game is embedded in the environment and the player may not need to carry digital equipment around with them and, crucially, can continue to actively play while ignoring the game.

This paper proposes a systemic domain (Eglin, Eyles, & Dansey, 2007) theoretical model for understanding the underlying properties of ambient games, comparing and contrasting them with computer and video games. The theoretical models of both computer and video games and ambient games are used to generate player activity gameflow diagrams, in which the progress a player makes through the domains in the systemic models while playing a game are clearly shown.

A game design research methodology (M. Eyles, Eglin, R., 2008) is used to investigate the ambient game systemic domain model and player activity gameflows. Ambient games, using RFID technology and pedometers, allow players to experience a game in which they are able to vary their involvement while engaged in other everyday activities. In order to discover the lived experience of players of ambient games existential phenomenological methods and in particular template analysis (King, 2008) are used. Studies and observations are described in which ambient games are used within the overarching game design research methodological framework.

A systemic domain model for ambient pervasive persuasive games

Paper for the CHI2008 Workshop: Surrounded by Ambient Persuasion, 5th-10th April 2008, Florence, Italy:

A systemic domain model for ambient pervasive persuasive games (Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, 57KB)


By the development of the system domain model it is hoped that a greater conceptual and theoretical clarity may be brought to understanding the complex and multifaceted nature of pervasive and ambient computer games. This paper presents a conceptual model, the system domain model, to illustrate domain areas that exist in a console, pervasive or ambient game. It is implicit that the regions that the systemic domain model describes are contextually dependent.

By developing this model it is possible to more fully understand the gaming application area for game technologies and in particular the pervasive and ambient games. Further implications of this model are discussed with specific instances of games that are designed to promote behavioural change, in particular with regards to health.

Entering an age of playfulness where persistent, pervasive ambient games create moods and modify behaviour

Paper for the Cybergames 2007 Conference, 10th-11th September 2007 at the Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom:

Entering an age of playfulness where persistent, pervasive ambient games create moods and modify behaviour (Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, 459KB)

Look at the 'slides' page for the presentation slides that go with this paper.


A novel way of playing games called ambient gaming is defined and described. Growing out of ideas in ambient music, ambient gaming is defined as 'ignorable as it is interesting'. (Eno, 1978) Ambient gaming is set in the context of existing gaming systems, including computer games, Live Action Role Playing, augmented reality and pervasive gaming. Further, ambient games are set in a technological context, showing that the technology enabling their development is now becoming available. The specification and implementation of an ambient game prototype, Ambient Quest, is described. Finally future directions for research and application of ambient games are given.

Ambient role playing games: towards a grammar of endlessness

Paper for the Women in Games Conference 2007:

Ambient role playing games: towards a grammar of endlessness (Adobe Acrobat .pdf file, 856KB)

Look at the 'slides' page for the presentation slides that go with this paper.


If the seminal 1976 ambient music album Music for Airports (Eno, 1978) became a 21st century ambient role playing game, what would it play like? What technologies would be required? What would we need to know for this to happen? Who would be the target audience? This paper sets out to define ambient role playing games. A computer role playing game definition is suggested; the evolution of ambient technologies is outlined and a prototyped ambient game is described.

The heart of ambient gaming is embodied in Brian Eno's description of ambient music as being 'ignorable as it is interesting' (Eno, 1978). This is compared and contrasted with pervasive gaming (Waern, 2006), alternate reality gaming (Borland, 2005) and augmented reality gaming (such as ARQuake (Thomas, 2002)). There are many computer role playing games and a description of this genre is developed.

The roots and history of role playing games from Gilgamesh, Kriegspiel (Michael, 2005) and Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons (Hallford, 2001) and more recently World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2006) give a route to one possible genre definition and a list of role playing game play mechanisms. Case studies are then used to relate the gameplay mechanisms to computer role playing games and differentiate the role playing game genre. This definition and these properties are then combined with ideas of ambience to give a prescription for an ambient role playing game. The technology required for true ambient gaming is described by looking at the history of ubiquitous computing (Weiser, 1996) and showing how this is leading to an ambient intelligence technology that features transparent, intelligent interfaces (Aarts, Harwig, Schuurmans, & Denning, 2001). Finally the development and deployment of an ambient role playing game prototype is described and future audiences and applications of this technology are suggested, with particular reference to possible requirements of ambient gaming women.