The proliferation of low-cost optical input and output devices has created a culture in computing where everyday users are able to design and develop their own unique interfaces. This trend allows for computation to be included in spaces which previously have not been digitally augmented. Mixed Reality (MR) Gaming intends to explore the intersection of Augmented Reality with Augmented Virtuality in the context of conventional games played in social gathering places. The emergence of Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds provide “social” spaces for users to explore an environment that mimics the physical world, but the stigma of participating in these worlds as well as the isolation they can bring about limits their cultural reach.(Williams 2006; Lloyd 2007) By utilizing a system that reads and responds to the real world, digital play experiences can be enjoyed while maintaining more meaningful social contact. The social contact I intend to pursue will not be constructed using the computational design, or even the game mechanics of a Mixed Reality game. Rather, existing games that occur in the physical social world will be built upon as a space to introduce computational gameplay without transporting players’ attention into a purely non-digital space.

MR Gaming brings together the very technical field of Augmented Reality interaction research into a tangible form that can be introduced to uninitiated users. By leveraging interaction models drawn from conventional games that the average bar patron will be familiar with, the barrier to entry into complex, computationally-augmented gameplay will be removed. My hope, is that while the focus of this project is on games, my research will precipitate wider adoption of unconventional interactive systems in other fields.

My original thesis idea consisted of a system to augment printed publications with new media content. The idea was to utilize Computer Vision to detect what printed material was being read, and to superimpose digital content on top of the printed material. While I felt pressure from the publication industry to develop ways to integrate classical and new media together, my work in online publications over the past 18 months has made me less interested in attempting to breathe life into an industry that is simply not politically-compatible with contemporary media culture1. In spite of my disenchantment with the contextual drive of this idea, I am interested as to how the technology developed for MR Games will travel into the realms of new media to potentially alleviate some of the discontinuity that consumers of classical media are confronted with when approaching online syndicated content. However, by framing the project in the context of games, I will be able to tap into the deeply-rooted drive in humans to explore play, without being influenced by the economy or politics of the printed page.

In approaching MR Games, I will draw from my experience in designing and building Computer Vision art interactive art installations. My challenge will be in taking the participant in the art from their role as a viewer to a player. My experience with iterative game design should help me, and I plan to buttress that knowledge with research on the philosophical, cultural, and sociological implications of playing games. I will also conduct research into a number of social gathering places that would support games and play using MR. The crucial element of this project is to provide solutions that will work outside of a gallery setting, where players will approach a game for the same reasons that conventional games are approached. That is to say that they approach a game for the paradoxical aims of playing for the sake of playing, and also competing to win (Kolnai 1966:103-28)

To me, the implications of MR ties together today’s dichotomy of digital and real spaces. While the experiences of today’s digital worlds offer users new perspectives on social gatherings and play, the overlap between those experiences, and the sports found in stadiums, or the games played in recreational environments is under-explored.

In designing the gameplay of Mixed Reality Games, I hope to provide an experience that effectively hides the technology, but makes clear the computation and interaction inherent in the technology clear to users. In doing this, I expect that users involvement will increase over time, as the play elements and social interaction in real space allows potential players to overcome their anxieties of dealing with with computation in a social space.
Avedon and Sutton-Smith describe this aspect of game research as follows:

[T]he individual and psychological motivation for game playing is the presence in the player of anxieties and conflicts induced by antecedent child-training processes. The game is enjoyable to the player because it consists in a symbolic statement of these conflicts, and because in the course of the buffered learning that the game provides, the player develops confidence and competence to handle the real life situations toward which the original anxieties point. [Avedon and Sutton-Smith 1979:436]

By using a Mixed Reality system as a context for games that address the anxieties described by Avedon and Sutton-Smith, the practical skills gathered by the game interaction can more readily applied to complex (and increasingly digital) systems that the audience will be likely to encounter.

This project will hold my interest because of the complex and deeply-rooted nature of games, as well as what I see as a cultural imperative to inject the excitement and wonder of digital worlds into physical environments.. By altering the relationship between video games and conventional games, an infinite number of iterations and modifications can be made to enhance the conversation between players, their games, and the context in which the act of play occurs.

1.The idea of augmenting printed publications is primarily driven by the publishing industry. Initiatives such as the CueCat provided platforms on which readers could travel through the printed content to learn more about a particular topic. While this presents an interesting extension of reality into an existing form of media, the economic structure of the CueCat was driven by advertising. With ad revenues (and budgets) falling rapidly at all but the biggest magazines, publishers are desperate for a lifeline into new media, but are often unwilling to relinquish the cultural control that the printed page provides. In designing a Mixed Reality system, I am unwilling to allow the politics of publishing be embedded into software running on machines that will appear ubiquitously in the environment. It’s simply too Big Brother.


Lloyd, Christopher. “Experts say addiction to video games is quite real” The Indianapolis Star, August 30, 2007

Williams, Dmitri. “Excessive on line Gaming” The Washington Post, August 18, 2006

Kolnai, Aurel “Games and Aims” In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. New York: Ashgate 1966

Avedon and Sutton-Smith. The Study of Games: A Source Book. Huntington, NY: Krieger Publication 1979

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