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Are Games Spatial?

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In this reflection I do not attempt to answer the rather capacious question of what a game really is nor do I necessarily address the topic of what the role of games in human life is. These highly relevant questions are filleted and attempted to answer by others. My question for this reflection is about the territory of games with the core question whether games are spatial and if they are and what spatiality is in relation to games; can we altogether talk about a game space and to what extent is that space physical or tangible? This question arose during a recent discussion about the Magic Circle, say the playground of a game as coined originally by Johan Huizinga in his Homo Ludens (1938) and developed by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen in Rules of Play (2003) as a game design tool and ending up in a metaphor that has transcended the original connotation given by the mentioned authors to a multitude as manifested in everlasting comment threads in blogs by authors like Zimmerman[1].


According to the introductory words in Huizinga’s 1938 Homo Ludens, “All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course” (Huizinga p. 10). By choosing these words to distinguish the boundaries of a game, Huizinga also chose for a rather sacral phrasing of his description of what game space is or could be according to him. He speaks for instance of the consecrated spot, the arena, the temple and the Magic Circle, a choice of words with a rather esoteric jot to them, if not taken from cleric worlds. Interpreting this type of discourse, Huizinga appears to be a devoted follower of a near religious belief in the divinity of the greatness of the Game. In the very same introduction to his book, Huizinga employs superlatives to underline this believe and that is, by no means, to be reproved. In fact, as one of the first chroniclers of the phenomenon of games, Huizinga treats us with an in-depth understanding of the role and importance of games and gaming as he attempts to construe its relevance in life.

Let us be aware of the time frame, the Zeitgeist, in which Huizinga developed his insights. It was the end of the Interbellum and it was The Netherlands. All through Huizinga’s book, there are signs of his socio-political and economic engagement although the author never mentions the ensnarer by name. Huizinga’s thoughts (as expressed in the 1955 edition of Homo Ludens) like war itself might be regarded as a form of divination and in the absence of the play-spirit civilization is impossible do shed a clear light on the underlying philosophy of the Dutch historian when addressing the issue of the purpose, say the role, of games in human life; it develops civilization. Perhaps that is why Huizinga chose the rather pompously phrased conception of the Magic Circle as the metaphor for the playground of games, a metaphor that became an object of discussion decades later.


In the first sentence of his Jerked Around by the Magic Circle – Clearing the Air Ten Years Later, Eric Zimmerman (with Katie Salen with whom he rote Rules of Play in 2003 in mind) laments a definition for the Magic Circle as “[it] is the idea that a boundary exists between a game and the world outside the game (Zimmerman, 2012). According to the incited gamed designer, the Magic Circle is a design principle, a core game concept rather, just as there are a half dozen more. Zimmerman acknowledges the fact that he and his co-author borrowed the word from Huizinga as they also borrowed the term Lusory Attitude from Bernard Suits’ Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia to connote the specific attitude a player must have to enter into the play of a game. Apparently both conceptions were regarded as master concepts in the philosophy of Games as they grew out to overly exceed their original connotations and Zimmerman never anticipated that such conceptions (Magic Circle and Lusory Attitude) could ever have aroused so much discussion and confusion, let alone that it had ever been his goal to create such babel.

Zimmerman does agree however, that a game takes place in a certain space thus assigning space an important role in the whole conception, recognition and acceptation of a game. In fact, it is by far more a pondered idea than Hector Rodriguez who defines the Magic Circle as a spatiotemporal frame “which isolates their [the gamers] game from the more serious tasks of daily living” (Rodriguez, 2006). Otherwise, he does mention, “that within the Magic Circle, the rules of a game hold absolutely” (Rodriguez, 2006), therefore attributing at least this Huizinga thesis to the conception of Game. But what does that say about the spatiality of games? Are games subject to the notion of space? And what then is space?


According to Chinese-Americans geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, “space and place are components of environment” (Tuan, p.v) and there is a distinct difference between Space and Place: “Place is security, space is freedom” (Tuan, p.3) and as we know from Huizinga, play is freedom as well as it is a voluntary decision to play or not. Should we then better look at Place, as it appears to be more concrete, perhaps even more physical, tangible, then Space?

Again Tuan may enlighten us on Babylon’s tower of disarray as he speaks of children’s perception of Place: “A child’s idea of place becomes more specific and geographical as he grows. To the question, where do you like to play? a two-year-old will probably say “home” or “outdoors.” An older child will answer “in my room” or “in the yard.” Locations become more precise” (Tuan, p.30) and may eventually boil down to that cardboard on the table or rendering on the computer screen.

The two conceptions of Place and Space remain cause for confusion although the question whether games are spatial has not been cleared to our satisfaction. Tuan distinguishes two important notions that relate to Space: the spatial ability and knowledge of people. “With the help of the mind, human spatial ability (though not agility) rises above that of all other species. Spatial ability becomes spatial knowledge when movements and changes of location can be envisaged” (Tuan, p.67).

If we would decide that games are spatial, our decision would imply that games are about movement and location. That, at its turn, would imply that games deal with certain dimensions: “Spatial dimensions such as vertical and horizontal, mass and volume are experiences known intimately to the body; they are also felt whenever one sticks a pole in the ground, builds a hut, smoothens a surface for threshing grain, or watches a mound of dirt pile up as one digs a deep well. But the meaning of these spatial dimensions gains immeasurably in power and clarity when they can be seen in monumental architecture and when people live in its shadow” (Tuan, p.108). The question now rises whether we can decide on games having spatial dimension.


Huizinga also suggested that play is limited, meaning that it always requires place and time” ‘both combine strict rules with genuine freedom” (Huizinga, p.22). Perhaps it is in this limitation that we find reason to commit to agreeing the spatiality of games.


A last element of spatiality of games I would like to contribute is that of what Huizinga calls “the sense of limited mobility or freedom of movement” (Huizinga p.38) and it is in this detail that we may consider the spatiality of games as a (depicted) place for play. Already dimensions were mentioned as prerequisites for spaciality and now, on the very same page Huizinga quotes the President of the Netherlands Bank that, in the cause of devaluation of the (pre-war) Guilder, “in so restricted an area as is now left for it [the devastating quality of the Dutch economy in the late thirties of last century], the Gold Standard cannot play” (id.). How staggering it is to find quotations like these about playing space, availability of space, locative space, still after more than seventy years. It raises the question whether space is limited (as Tuan places Space between two extremities).


We play the game. We do so voluntary, often in a preset amount of time. We expect a certain outcome – a winner and thus a looser, perhaps even a certain sensation. We do so by obeying negotiated rules and we do so by agreeing on boundaries; if we step out of the collateral lines; we are not in the game any more and the game will be (temporarily) stopped. We will only restart the game play after we have re-entered the within the boundaries, the playing field, the space of which we have agreed the game rules to be applicable; the Magic Circle. Every game has its own disposition, its own character, its own sphere; it always obeys to prerequisites that are agreed upon before the game is played. One of those prerequisites appears to be spatial; space, game space as it is within its boundaries from where a game play commences or not, leaving those out of the boundaries as spectators. Or, are they participants as well?




Huizinga, J. (1949) Homo Ludens. A study of the play-element in culture. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, Boston and Henley.

Rodriguez, H. (2006). The playful and the serious. An approximation to Huizinga’s homo ludens. Games Studies, 6(1), May 2013.

Salen K. and Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Tuan, Y. (1977). Space and Place. The Perspective of Experience (6th ed. 2008). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Zimmerman, E. (2012, February 7). Jerked around by the magic circle – clearing the air ten years later. Retrieved May 14, 2013, 2013, from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6696/jerked_around_by_the_magic_circle_.php


Written by Kees Winkel

June 18, 2013 at 10:16

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brinking. – Is Twitter now a viable platform?

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With the spectacular growth of Draw Something there’s been renewed chatter about whether Twitter is a viable platform for other products to grow on. Draw Some, after all, at least partly attributes their unprecedented growth to Twitter.

Will we finally be able to see a product grow and monetize with Twitter as its primary communication channel? Does Draw Some hold any lessons for other non-game products being able to use Twitter for growth and retention?

First, let’s establish what we need from a channel. To oversimplify, we want two things from “virality”:

1. The ability to acquire new users

2. The ability to retain current users

For example email offers both of these since I can invite a new user to the service, or bring a current user back by, say, letting them know that a friend just posted a picture of

them. But with notoriously bad CTRs on email its a crappy channel for both new and retained communication in most circumstances.

Communication for retaining users is often overlooked but incredibly critical. For example there was a long time where Facebook basically made it impossible to acquire new users through the feed because it would only show the item to people who had already installed that app. However the feed still was a critical channel. It just became something more akin to push messaging on an iPhone, a way to let people know to come back.

Through that lens we can look at Draw Something, as well as previous efforts like Spyhunter, and see where Twitter fits.

Twitter today feels like it can be a viable channel for user acquisition, for the right type of content that is tailored to be broadcast to strangers. After all, social games from Cafe World to Idle Worship are now allowing you to play with strangers on Facebook, which is far more tenuous a connection than the follower model of Twitter. Twitter, which thrives on the psychology of pride, can be a great outlet for things folks would be >proud of (ie a drawing) versus a beg need.

But it still feels particularly bad as a communication channel for retention. With Twitter seemingly slowly deprecating direct messaging, and throttling them regardless, there is no private way to message a friend that is akin to email or FB requests. And that means to get an appropriate volume your public twitter stream basically needs to be about that product, which very few people are willing to subjugate themselves to.

That just means it can be part of, just not all, of a product strategy. For instance an interesting thing about mobile is that you have a retention channel already, push messaging. So perhaps there will be a new wave of products that take advantage of channels like Twitter, Instagram, Path, and Pinterest for new user acqusition, and then use mobile push messaging (hopefully messages with meaning) that drive retention.

disclosure: Omgpop (makers of Draw Something) and Twitter are Spark portfolio companies

via OM Says: brinking. – Is Twitter now a viable platform?.

Written by Kees Winkel

March 24, 2012 at 15:30

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Eneco launches her first iPhone app: Solar Shooter

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Although I am not much of a gamer, I’d like your attention for this nice one the Dutch energy producer ENECO has launched: Solar Shooter. Oneshoe, the Dutch interactive and mobile forerunner with a crush for new technology, has developed the game. Why not take a shot via iPhone app store or through the QR at the end of the Dutch text. The game is in English so that will not be much of a problem.

Eneco lanceert haar eerste iPhone App: ‘Solar Shooter’

Solar Shooter is een iPhone game, ontwikkeld door het Nederlandse bedrijf One Shoe mobile in opdracht van Eneco, als Nederlandse energieleverancier. Deze vrolijke laagdrempelige iPhone game, met een vette knipoog naar duurzaamheid, is sinds vandaag geschikt voor alle leeftijden. Behaalde scores kunnen worden gedeeld op Facebook. De game is door iedereen met een iPhone iOS 4.0 of hoger gratis te downloaden.

Waarom een app?

Het gebruik van mobiel (internet) neemt een enorme vlucht. Eneco gelooft dat mobiel ook een belangrijke rol gaat spelen in de communicatie met haar klanten. Het komende jaar wil Eneco diverse functionaliteiten, zoals het beheersen van je energiekosten, aan gaan bieden via mobiele applicaties. Met de relatief eenvoudige game Solar Shooter wil Eneco nu leren door te doen om straks complexere applicaties eenvoudiger te kunnen realiseren en introduceren.

Eneco heeft voor deze app gekozen voor de iPhone iOS als platform, omdat dit het meest gebruikte apparaat is op het gebied van mobiel internet en applicaties zoals games. Het concept van de applicatie is met een dikke knipoog gerelateerd aan de dienstverlening van Eneco, namelijk het leveren van duurzame energie.

Wat is Solar Shooter?

In de game is de fictieve Mr. Watson uitvinder van elektriciteit. Hij merkt op dat hij zijn monopoliepositie hierop echter aan het verliezen is. Aan wie? Aan ‘Sunny Solar’, het zonnepaneeltje dat elektriciteit opwekt met behulp van de zon. Sunny moet Mr. Watson stoppen, voordat hij de wereld verovert met energie slurpende apparaten. Mr. Watson geeft zich niet heel snel gewonnen. Hij stapt in zijn vliegtuig en laat diverse apparaten, de zogenoemde ‘enemies’ van Sunny, vanuit zijn vliegtuig naar beneden vallen. Na deze korte introductie kun je de game gaan spelen.

De Game

Het verhaal speelt zich af in een huis en als speler ben je het karakter ‘Sunny Solar’. Sunny moet diverse levels in de vorm van een woonkamer, badkamer en keuken doorlopen. In elke kamer moet je weer diverse sublevels spelen die van een niveau 1 tot en met 10 steeds moeilijker worden. In iedere nieuw level komen er andere apparaten naar beneden die Sunny met de ‘Solar particles’ kapot moet schieten. Sommige apparaten laten na het kapot schieten een object vallen. Er zijn zes verschillende objecten binnen de categorieën ‘power-up’ en ‘power-down’. Objecten onder de categorie ‘power-up’ geven Sunny een positief effect waardoor Sunny bijvoorbeeld twee solar particles kan schieten. Objecten onder de categorie ‘power-down’ geven Sunny een negatief effect waardoor de schietkracht van Sunny bijvoorbeeld minder wordt. Het is uiteraard de bedoeling om de positieve objecten te pakken en de negatieve objecten te ontwijken.


Als je genoeg punten weet te scoren kun je Sunny Solar een upgrade geven voor extra schietkracht. Hierdoor kun je de apparaten verderop in de game gemakkelijker uitschakelen. De shop voor de upgrades is te vinden in de gang van het huis.


De game is te bedienen door Sunny Solar met je vinger van links naar rechts te bewegen. Door met je vinger op Sunny Solar te tikken kun je meerdere malen achter elkaar schieten.

Het doel

Uiteindelijk is het streven om met zo min mogelijk schoten alle kamers en levels uit te gaan spelen. Je score wordt bepaald op nauwkeurigheid en de behaalde punten, waar er weer bonus punten behaald kunnen worden door je nauwkeurigheid van schieten. Gebruik dus zo min mogelijk energie van Sunny om Mr. Watson en zijn apparaten te verslaan!

Wat wil Eneco bereiken?

Eneco wil ervaring opdoen met markteting via “onbekende” en nieuwe kanalen, zoals bijvoorbeeld de iPhone App Store. Daarnaast hoopt Eneco natuurlijk dat de Solar Shooter iPhone applicatie enthousiast ontvangen wordt en dat veel mensen de app gaan downloaden en spelen.

Download Solar Shooter via de iPhone App Store of scan deze QR code:


Written by Kees Winkel

June 30, 2011 at 14:24

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Starbucks steps up mcommerce game via Android payment app – Mobile Commerce Daily – Applications

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Starbucks is keeping up with its ever-growing tech-savvy customers and has rolled out an Android app that lets them pay for their beverages and other goods via their mobile device.

The mobile loyalty app lets consumers make in-store purchases as part of the company’s national program that is now available at nearly 6,800 company-operated stores. Starbucks released the iPhone version earlier this year.

“Yes, we’re seeing a steep increase in user adoption of the payments solution,” said Drew Sievers, cofounder/CEO of mFoundry, San Francisco.

“There is very stro


ng demand for the product,” he said.

Founded in 1971, Starbucks is a global roaster and retailer of specialty arabica coffee.

The coffee giant tapped mFoundry to power the application and mobile payment program.

How it works

Consumers can enter their Starbucks Card number in the mobile app.

Then, their device will display a bar code and customers can use their smartphone as a Starbucks Card to make purchases.

Starbucks customers can manage their Starbucks Card account, check their card balance, reload their card, check their My Starbucks Rewards status and find a nearby location via the mobile app.

Additionally, consumers can check their balance and track the stars they can earn toward free beverages.

Customers can also reload their balance and add additional money to the card. Read the whole story: Starbucks steps up mcommerce game via Android payment app – Mobile Commerce Daily – Applications.

Written by Kees Winkel

June 16, 2011 at 11:10

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