Ambient Play and Background Gaming

Reflecting on Quotidian Creative Practices

Authored by: Ingrid Richardson

The Routledge Companion to Mobile Media Art

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  July  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367197162
eBook ISBN: 9780429242816
Adobe ISBN:


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Mobile media interfaces have seen the rise and proliferation of new modes of digital and creative play, as mobile apps, services and games become increasingly embedded in the interstices of our day-to-day lives. This chapter considers the notion of "ambient play" as a way to critically interpret the complex and diverse practices emerging from our use of mobile phones as portable game devices. In particular, it focuses on the way people frequently engage in playful mobile media practices betwixt other activities—while waiting at the bus stop or for a friend to arrive at a designated meeting-place, or at home while watching television or taking a short break from homework or domestic tasks. This has seen the popularity of a new genre of videogame play almost exclusive to mobile platforms: the background game. Background games require the player to set up a series of tasks which are then completed over a duration of actual hours while the player goes about their day. It is this flexibility and ease of incorporation, especially when adapted to mobile social media games and creative applications, that so thoroughly instills mobile media play into the routines and habits of our daily lives. In this chapter the author explores such embedded modes of mobile play and discusses some of the consequences for our embodied, communicative and creative experience in today’s media-saturated environment. As the chapter suggests, these modalities of play can be considered “ambient” as they become seamlessly integral to users’ quotidian existence. Conceptually, ambient play takes a versatile and open approach to the experiential significance of games and playfulness, and aptly conveys the way mobile media are part of a manifold lusory and creative sensibility in contemporary culture.

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