Understanding Pervasive Games for Purposes of Learning
Klaus P. Jantke
and Sebastian Spundflasch
Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, Childrens Media Dept., Erich-K¨astner-Str. 1a, 99094 Erfurt, Germany
Ilmenau University of Technology, Institute of Media Technology, P.O. Box 100565, 98684 Ilmenau, Germany
Game Based Learning, Serious Games, Pervasive Games, Storyboarding.
Among the manifold of approaches to technology enhanced learning, game based learning is very attractive.
In game based learning, the technological systems employed for the purpose of learning are digital games.
Stand-alone serious games are rare. Games deployed for learning need to be embedded into suitable contexts.
A particular approach promising from certain didactic perspectives and driven by a variety of characteristics
of learning contents and training requirements is embedding those games into the surrounding physical world.
Games embedded into the physical world are called pervasive games. The ways of embedding are paramount.
There have been numerous attempts to design and to implement pervasive games, in general, and to deploy
pervasive games for learning purposes, in particular. The majority of those pervasive games failed quite badly.
Storyboarding the interaction between the real world and the virtual world of a pervasive game reveals the
essential strengths and weaknesses of the game concept and allows for diagnosing didactic flaws of game play.
Beyond its diagnostic power, the approach supports the design of more affective and effective pervasive games.
Storyboarding is a methodology of anticipating human experience and, thus, a methodology of didactic design.
All of us–readers and authors of this manuscript–are
aware of the fact that so-called digital natives
other expectations when facing digital media than
their parents and teachers. Playful learning, whenever
possible, and using digital games for learning with-
out any fear belongs to the widespread expectations
teachers and trainers have to fulfill.
In response, game based learning and serious
games are terms naming some prosperous field of
technology enhanced learning.
When the learning contents is out there in the sur-
rounding world, it seems plausible to bring the games
out there as well–pervasive games concepts evolve.
In harsh contrast to the promises, most pervasive
games failed badly.
There will surely be no superficial and short ex-
planation for a large number of finally disappointing
game developments. But understanding the past and
The term digital natives as polemically opposed to
denigratingly called digital immigrants is, exactly in this
sense, ascribed to Marc Prensky (Prensky 2001), although
the idea as a whole dates back to (Barlow, 1996) writing:
“You are terrified of your own children, since they are
natives in a world where you will always be immigrants.
shaping the future surely needs some pondering, some
exchange of opinions, and several innovative ideas.
The authors aim at some small contribution to this
process by advocating their position,
that there are decisive characteristics of pervasive
games which may be well explicated by suitable
approaches of storyboarding applied to pervasive
Using storyboarding a posteriori, it turns out to
work as a diagnostic tool. Doing it a priori, story-
boarding becomes a tool for design and development
fostering to draw conclusions from lessons learned in
earlier projects that failed.
Based on the authors’ key position above, one is
lead to some more viewpoints worth to be considered.
Pervasive games may be classified according to
their pervasiveness which is of didactic relevance.
The crucial embedding of learning contents into
game play may be characterized quite well by
means of storyboarding terminology.
The storyboarding technology, by its very nature,
allows for an explication of the context conditions
in which learning is likely to take place.
The basic terminology will be introduced briefly
to be applied to a larger number of pervasive games.
P. Jantke K. and Spundflasch S..
Understanding Pervasive Games for Purposes of Learning.
DOI: 10.5220/0004413006960701
In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2013), pages 696-701
ISBN: 978-989-8565-53-2
2013 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
Before going into the details of discussion, the authors
are aiming at an intuitive introduction. Instead of
presenting notations in a formal way, a certain digi-
tal game is used to exemplify what the present paper
is about, which concepts are in use, and how typical
problems are formulated and attacked.
The game selected for an introduction by example
is TREASURE (Chalmers et al., 2005) which is one of
the earliest pervasive games. The purpose of the game
TREASURE is to learn about wireless communication.
The ideas underlying this game are easy in structure.
Figure 1: Interface to the TREASURE game as it appears in
some PDA; picture taken from (Chalmers et al., 2005) with
the permission of the authors as it appears in (Jantke, 2006).
Some real urban environment such as a park, e.g.,
is virtually equipped with virtual treasures
. Teams
of players are running around in pursuit of treasures.
Team members in the real world are localized by
means of GPS technology relating them to the virtual
treasures and to each other. In certain areas, there are
WLAN connections allowing players to contact their
virtual treasure boxes on the server for upload.
For the borderline between reality and virtuality, in
general, and for its relevance to e-learning, in particular, in-
terested readers are directed to (Jantke and Lengyel, 2012).
(Chalmers et al., 2005) describe variations of the
game mechanics. The core idea, however, is lucid.
The storyboard in fig. 2 is summarizing the essentials.
Figure 2: Storyboard of TREASUREs game mechanics.
Every node is an episode or a scene describing
some action. Smaller inscriptions describe actions of
the computer system as opposed to actions of human
players. Solid lines indicate the passing of a human
player from one action to another such as, for illustra-
tion, from just walking to picking up some treasure.
Dashed green lines indicate that the player’s action
causes some actions of the computer system. In turn,
dotted blue lines indicate the impact of earlier game
actions on the players current actions. For instance,
virtual treasures can only be discovered and picked up
where the computer system has placed them virtually.
Arrows indicating update operations of the players’
positions have been dropped.
Game playing means moving around, collecting
virtual treasures, trying to pickpocket each other, and
aiming at uploads of the own virtual treasure to the
safe virtual treasure box. The bookkeeping of treasure
locations and treasure boxes defines the termination
of game play.
The simplicity of the storyboard above reflects the
simple structure of the underlying game concept.
Furthermore, it exhibits that there are no actions
of interest performed by the game system except
bookkeeping and, thus, determining preconditions of
player actions. The game system is not perceived as
an actor, but more seen as a supervising game master.
This paper uses storyboarding as a technology, but
does not aim at anything such as an introductory
course to storyboarding. The authors rely on the ba-
sics as introduced by (Jantke and Knauf, 2005) and
confine themselves to those notions and notations
needed for the purpose of characterizing pervasive
games. Recent work on storyboarduing digital games
such as (Jantke and Knauf, 2012), e.g., is worth some
Storyboards are hierarchically structured graphs.
The composite nodes are named episodes, whereas
the atomic nodes are named scenes. Composite nodes
may be subject to substitution by some other graphs.
In contrast, atomic nodes have some semantics in the
underlying domain. They may represent documents
such as videos, pictures, or text files in formats like
pdf, e.g., but they may also represent some activi-
ties of human learners, co-learners, teacher, tutors, or
those actions performed by certain digital systems.
The usage of composite nodes in a graph allows
for the representation of anticipated experiences on
different levels of granularity (see (Lenerz, 2009)).
Figure 3: Cutout of some storyboard with three episodes.
Just for illustration, fig. 3 above is showing two
alternative substitutions for an episode. The graphs
for substitution on display contain only scenes which
have a particular operational semantics. In general,
subgraphs may also contain episodes.
Graphs may contain branches and loops, where
there are different branches for indicating alternatives,
multiple choices, parallelism of action, and the like.
Every storyboard specifies a usually rather large
number of paths through the storyboard describing,
for instance, varying experiences of game playing or
different ways of learning.
The art of storyboarding is to anticipate and to
specify the manifold of forthcomingactions including
human-computer interaction, human-to-human com-
munication and individual activities like pondering
particular problems or reflecting own achievements.
Seen from an e-learning perspective, storyboarding
means technology enhanced didactic design.
Game based learning is an established paradigm
of technology enhanced learning (see, for instance,
(Prensky, 2001), (Ritterfeld et al., 2009)), although
it does not yet play any remarkable role in conference
series such as CSEDU.
Contemporary taxonomies and classifications of
serious games such as (Sawyer and Smith, 2008) and
(Ratan and Ritterfeld, 2009) do not even mention the
term pervasive game or the game property of being
This particularly unsatisfactory state of the art
bears abundant evidence of the need for pondering the
peculiarities of those serious games that fall into the
category of pervasive games as well.
No doubt, there are serious games which are not
pervasive and there are pervasive games which do not
deserve to be called serious. This paper’s focus is on
the intersection of the two categories, exclusively.
A game may be called pervasive if the experience
of playing is based on a certain mixing of real world
elements and virtual elements. Crucial to the human
experience is the interplay between the real world and
the virtual layer. Virtual actions may be the trigger for
physical actions in the real world and vice versa.
Playing some pervasive game is characterized by
face-to-face communication and social inter-
actions among players,
physical interactions between human players,
physical activities in real environments,
the dynamics of reality influencing game play,
virtual world components expanding the reality.
The virtual game world may give new meanings to
parts of the real world. For instance, some road may
be seen as a river and some building becomes a castle.
Beyond the limitations of conventional digital games,
actions in the game world may have real-world pre-
conditions and may require real-world actions.
According to constructivist approaches to learn-
ing (Thissen, 1997), human learners acquire knowl-
edge in an active process which may be highly iter-
ative. In dependence on the general domain and the
specific subject of learning, experimentation, trial and
error, haptic experience and the like may be crucial.
In game-based learning, pervasive games are those
bridging the gap to real experiences in the real world.
Even rather simple approaches to playing per-
vasive games for purposes of learning–compared to
classroom approaches–may lead to some higher ener-
getic activation, more positive emotions and attitudes
towards learning activities (Kittl et al., 2009).
Storyboarding is not only some technology of a priori
design, but also some means of a posteriori analysis
and understanding. Storyboarding bears the potential
of explicating an interactive system’s characteristics
which are decisive of the impact of interaction.
Some earlier papers in the area of pervasive games
contain diagrammatic representations looking like
storyboards (see (Markovic et al., 2007), fig. 5, e.g.),
but the visualizations do not yet sufficiently well both
separate and relate the two game world components.
5.1 Classifying Pervasiveness of Games
Roughly speaking, storyboards of pervasive games
explicate three related, but different aspects of each
game: what happens in the real world, what happens
in the virtual world, and how the two parallel worlds
communicate with each other.
INSECTOPIA (Peitz et al., 2007) is the name of an
interesting, but not too complex pervasive game using
bluetooth technology as the means to connect the real
and the virtual world.
Figure 4: Essentials of the INSECTOPIA game play.
Humans playing INSECTOPIA walk around to col-
lect virtual insects in the real world. Via the Blue-
tooth interface of his internet connected smartphone,
INSECTOPIA is constantly looking for other enabled
Bluetooth connectionswithin range. When the human
player, intentionally or just by chance, is getting into
the reach of some other activated Bluetooth device,
INSECTOPIA uses whose Bluetooth-ID to generate a
virtual insect on the players smartphone.
Metaphoricallyspeaking, pervasive games are like
board games, in which the real world serves as
the board, the human players are the pieces moved
around, and the computer technology implements the
game mechanics. For a particular pervasive game,
1. it may be freely played anywhere,
2. it may be played where virtual objects are set up,
3. it may be definitely bound to some fixed location.
INSECTOPIA is of the first and TREASURE is of the
second type as can be deduced from the Bookkeeping
Treasures Node. What follows is a third type example.
In January 2007, it was proudly announced that
the German city of Regensburg, a beautiful place, gets
the first permanent high-tech city game of the world
(see (Borchers, 2007), first sentence of the article).
Launched in May 2007, the tracks of the game on the
Internet vanish already in Summer of the same year–
not really a permanent success.
(Ballagas and Walz, 2007) allow for some deeper
insights into the game’s characteristics.
Figure 5: Essentials of the REXPLORER game play.
REXPLORER offers the possibility to explore the
history of the German city of Regensburg in a playful
manner. In this game, the player is guided by GPS to
certain points of interest in the city. At these points,
historical knowledge is imparted to the player through
story-driven multimedia learning content.
5.2 Storyboarding Issues of Learning
The introductory game case study of TREASURE (see
figs. 1 and 2) describes a pervasive game developed
and implemented with some specific learning goals
in mind: learning about wireless communication with
emphasis on the seams in communication networks.
When playing the game, human players are acting
in the real world aiming at experiencing scenes such
as “Pickup Treasure”, “Pickpocket other Player”, and
“Upload to the Treasure Box” (see fig. 2 for details).
They are only learning by becoming aware of the
system-executed communication activities indicated
by the dashed green lines and by the dotted blue lines,
respectively, in fig. 2.
So, the storyboard does clearly indicate what is
relevant to this pervasive game’s educational impact.
This may be used, for instance, in designing assess-
ment strategies.
This section aims at the presentation of another
case study published, among others, in (Winter and
Pemberton, 2010) and (Winter and Pemberton, 2012).
According to (Winter and Pemberton, 2010),
INVISIBLE BUILDINGS is a cross-curricular whole-
day learning experience integrating outdoor mobile
location-based games with complementary indoor
classroom-based activities addressing primary school
children aged 9-10 years.
The game is played by means of GPS-enabled
smartphones. These smartphones are attached to
custom-made mock-up tools simulating, for instance,
metal detectors. The metal objects found in the school
ground are put there very much like the treasures of
the TREASURE game are hidden in the park (fig. 1).
Other mock-up tools allow for the discovery of virtual
building structures underneathor may be used for dig-
ging virtually.
The whole learning activity is composed of indoor
and outdoor episodes as shown in fig. 6 (see fig. 1 of
(Winter and Pemberton, 2010), for comparison).
Publications such as (Winter and Pemberton,
Figure 6: Top level storyboard of INVISIBLE BUILDINGS.
2010) and (Winter and Pemberton, 2012), unfortu-
nately, do not provide sufficient detail for a reliable
expansion of the storyboard shown in fig. 6. There-
fore, the authors confine themselves to an in-depth
discussion of just one part of the game play under
The particular episode shown in figure 6 entitled
Outdoor Task Searching for Building Remains ex-
pands as shown in fig. 7 below.
Figure 7: INVISIBLE BUILDINGS storyboard expansion.
The episode expanded in fig. 7 is entered by walk-
ing around with the virtual Geo Phys tool. It may be
left at any scene on display to continue by playing the
next indoor episode.
The game system’s tracing of player positions
does possibly trigger the scene of discovering some
virtual building remains. Subsequently, players have
both to alert the archaeologist and to mark the newly
found positions of the remains.
When playing this episode is completed, the floor
plan drawn by the players is carried over to the next
indoor episode in which the players’ floor plan is fur-
ther investigated and interpreted.
The storyboard above reveals that in the game
INVISIBLE BUILDINGS the game system does not
perform substantially more interesting activities than
in the other pervasive games investigated before. But
it definitely encourages a larger variety of human
learning activities.
The INVISIBLE BUILDINGS pervasive game has
some peculiarities which make it unlikely to be played
. As reported in (Winter and Pemberton,
2010), section 3.3, an enormous amount of staff is
required to play the game. Adults such as teachers
and parents all “played a role in the project and a pro-
fessional actor was introduced to play the part of an
Indiana Jones-style archaeologist”.
Storyboarding is a methodology of didactic inter-
action and media design. A posteriori storyboarding
of pervasive games helps to understand decisive char-
acteristics and deficiencies of those games. Due to the
peculiarities of triggering real life activities, pervasive
games are forming a particularly promising category
of serious games. As a methodology of instructional
design, a priori storyboarding becomes crucial.
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