Pervasive Games Beyond the Promotional Tools: Approaches of Aesthetic Pervasiveness in Consumption of Experience

Volume 7, Issue 1, November 2017

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Federal Fluminense University


This paper proposes an analysis of the aesthetic elements that permeate both pervasive gaming and pervasive advertising, a type of advertising that infiltrates urban spaces and allows for a ludic and tangible experience. This research discusses the aesthetic similarities between pervasive games and pervasive advertising. It analyses a selection of the most shared videos from around the world, collected by Unruly Viral Video Chart and looks into the following common features: the social expansion carried out by convening performances that are directly related to the engagement of the interactor and viewer; the establishment of a fictional agreement characterised by the fluidity of boundaries between reality and fiction; the space-time expansion occurring as part of this agreement. This process of engaging in movement between real and fictional borders, engaging and entering into built environments, prevents the occurrence of involuntary micro-suspension of disbelief in the sense that, for a few seconds, the limiting notions of what is real lose their foundations. This research argues that the elements that permeate both pervasive games and pervasive advertising are part of this experiential moment of searching for tangible pleasures characteristic of a ludic society.

Keywords: Pervasive games; Pervasive advertising; Performance; Engagement; Magic circle.


The relationship between pervasive games and advertising is not an entirely recent development. Since some pervasive experiences emerged via research and development work (e.g. “PingPongPlus” (Ishii, 1999), it was not long before the advertising industry realized the commercial potential of pervasive experiences and allowing brands to infiltrate the daily lives of consumers in a ludic way. 2001 was an iconic year for the production of pervasive games advertising, with the promotion of the movie Artificial Intelligence by Steven Spielberg. Many other marketing campaigns using Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as promotional tools have followed, including I Love Bees to promote Halo 2 (Bungie, 2004) (see McGonigal, 2007) and the promotion of other audio-visual content, such as the TV series Lost (ABC, 2004-2010), Alias (ABC, 2006), 24 (Fox, 2001-2010) and Smallville (The WB/CW, 2001-2011) (see Szulborski, 2006).[1] In that same year, digital games started to use pervasive technologies as part of their mechanics, such as BotFighters (It’s Alive!, 2001), a location-based mobile game made in Sweden. Its mechanics consisted of the sale of badges that were transformed into rewards inside the game, showing its commercial aspect.

Between 2005-2008 research emerged from this commercial potential, including work by the Integrated Project on Pervasive Games (IPERG) composed of the Swedish Center for Computer Science (SICs); Mixed Reality Lab (Nottingham University, England); Tampere University (Finland); Fraunhofer Institute (Germany); and Gotland University (Sweden). The interests of this research were gathered into two closely interconnected lines: the first was focused on analysing pervasive games design, or the spatiality and temporality in these games; the second investigated elements related to the marketing potential of these games, seeking to identify and comprehend players’ profiles, market structures, revenue streams, and product life cycles. The pioneering research found that the increased visibility of these games made them capable of attracting new audiences, paving the way for new revenue channels and commercial models. This approach could be adjusted to the entertainment industry’s challenges, especially in electronic games, and open up new markets instead of competing with existing ones, thus making pervasive games a potential tool for experience consumption (Pine II and Gilmore, 1999).

Therefore, it is possible to verify that the use of pervasive games as a marketing strategy is not novel, exemplified by the 2010 “Mini Getaway” in Stockholm, Sweden.[2] For seven days, people from all around the country were invited to take part in a game that promoted the release of the Mini Countryman car. The goal was to collect as many badges as possible via mobile apps for iPhone, obtainable when the player got close to the car. The game reached around 11,000 players who participated in the action and, according to the campaign’s reports, 90 countries were impacted, even though they were not the primary target of the game. People from other countries monitored the players’ actions and followed their progress through social media, generating 30,000 tweets on the subject. According to the reports of the advertising agency which created the campaign, sales of all Mini car models went up by 92% – twice as much as the growth rate of the whole automobile market in Sweden.[3]

However, the purpose of this paper is not to reinforce the power of pervasive gaming as a marketing strategy. This research is interested in one advertising type, known as pervasive advertising (Oliveira, 2015; Carrera and Oliveira, 2014), that infiltrates spaces of urban daily life and offers ludic experiences to consumers using aesthetic elements similar to pervasive games. In other words, this research is interested in outlining the similarities between these two types of production and what aesthetic approaches are possible from a comparison between the fundamental characteristics of pervasive games and pervasive advertising.

The aesthetic issues addressed in this paper refer to an experience provided by live performance. However, this is a type of experience that can only be measured when the researcher is present at the place of the performance event. As it was not possible to be present at these events, (which happen at random for individuals not involved in the planning of the campaign), our focus is on the audiovisual records made during the events. In aiming to understanding the logic used in this type of pervasive production, this research will perform a mapping from the site Unruly Viral Video Chart in the period from 2012 to 2015. This procedure will provide a tool for verifying the most shared videos, and then identifying those which display the aesthetic characteristics of pervasive advertising.

Therefore, the analysis focuses on the following assumptions that underlie both pervasive gaming and pervasive advertising: the first concerns a social expansion that is accomplished from convening performances that are directly related to the engagement of the interactor and viewer. There is also the establishment of a fictional agreement (Schaeffer, 1999) developed from the fluidity of boundaries between reality and fiction (McGonigal, 2003), providing space-time expansion. In addition, new experiences occur on the performed body, causing involvement of the subjects as part of the interaction (Gee, 2008). This process of engaging in transit between the real and the fictional engages with and enters into built environments and prevents the occurrence of involuntary micro-suspensions of disbelief (Oliveira, 2015) in the sense that, for a few seconds, the limiting notions of what is real loses its foundations.

More than pointing out advertising tendencies, the intention of this work is to see how this kind of game and this type of advertising are interrelated, seeking to go beyond the game itself as well as the promotional productions, covering aspects related to aesthetic elements of the consumption experience (Pine II, Gilmore, 1998).

Fundamental Aesthetic Characteristics of Pervasive Games

Following the aforementioned investigations, other researchers searched for definitions and key concepts relating to pervasive gaming. Some suggest these games blur the boundaries between the game and the real world, transforming physical environments into spaces for these events with the help of mobile technologies and ubiquitous computing (McGonigal, 2003a). Others argue they infiltrate the real world in an undefined way, merging with the physical space (Benford et al, 2006). Finally, some suggest they combine new technology and the player’s real environment (Broll et al, 2006). Therefore, the term pervasive games broadly refers to electronic games sustained by new computing and communication technologies that use the urban space as a medium for activities, promoting the blurring of borders between real and virtual worlds.

Eva Nieuwdorp (2007) argues that the term pervasive can be used from a technological perspective that privileges the tools, or from a cultural perspective that highlights the reasons behind and consequences of this appropriation of such pervasive technologies. Jane McGonigal (2006) defines them as games that focus on the user of a device (for example, a locative media device) that becomes fundamental to the flow of the game. Other authors, such as Montola et al (2009), use the expression pervasive games to name a category of games based on the Weiser paradigm (1991). To these authors, since the adjective pervasive is related to the notions of infiltration and penetration, these games point to fusion with the physical space, usually urban, as well as a fluid interchange between the frontiers of reality and fictionality.

Pervasive games are essentially collective in their in-game sociability (Stenros et al, 2009) as well as their mechanisms of self-image sharing through videos and photos on websites and forums made for that purpose, so that the player’s peers can follow their gameplay performance (Oliveira and Ferreira, 2013). Thus, this paper analyses pervasive games from the following central premises: i) social expansion is made concrete by the performance, directly related to the engagement of the interactor and the spectator, as noted by Montola et al (2005); ii) the establishment of a fictional agreement resulting from the fluidity of borders between reality and fictionality, allowing space-time expansions beyond daily life. Nieuwdorp (2005) specifically proposes that this game genre blurs the permeable boundary between the game and ordinary life; iii) new experiences over the performed body also occur, causing involuntary micro-suspensions of disbelief (Oliveira, 2015; Oliveira, 2016), thus the limiting notions of what is real lose their foundations for a while.

This research sees pervasive games through a rather culturalist perspective, since what is in question is not the way these technologies are used but how the logics of pervasive games are re-appropriated by a type of advertisement, offering tangible experiences to interactors and promoting a spectatorship regime based on the consumer’s engagement. If, in the game, the immersion and involvement are pleasing elements of the experience (Montola, 2007), in advertisement, this pleasure is associated with the increase in value that the object acquires by being promoted through those pervasive experiences. Therefore, this research defines pervasive advertisement as a type of advertisement that infiltrates urban spaces, establishes a fictional agreement that merges the frontiers between reality and fictionality, and stimulates a performance by the interactor in the scene.

Methodological procedures

The audience of pervasive games is not only other players present during the event. Audiences for pervasive games are also formed by individuals who watch the audio-visual recordings of the ludic experience, as documentation of the action e.g. journal entries, post-experience testimonials, transmission to other players who were not present at the event, etc. This kind of experience transcends the event in real time, reaches other publics not present at the event, and is a form of social expansion of pervasive games (Montola et al, 2009). When it is applied to pervasive advertisement, this practice of recording the event is necessary for the circulation of communication in which spreadability becomes a central element to measure the reach and the success of the campaign. Pervasive advertisement is focused on this type of audience: interactors that spread the advertising message through social media.

Sharing is very important in contemporary advertising, due the possibility of replication of marketing messages and the longevity of the postponed action in social media, both relevant factors for measuring the success of a campaign. In this sense, sharing remains one of the most used metrics in advertising campaign reports. More than merely being symptomatic of Web 2.0 in which participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006) is an imperative, particularly with regards to social media, there are numerous factors that affect sharing practices. From a psychological perspective, according to Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman (2012), virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. They demonstrate the causal impact of specific emotions on transmission and illustrate that it is driven by the level of activation induced. Sharing is also viewed as a means to increase social capital in which individuals negotiate status for their symbolic value of privilege or immediacy of the shared information (Ellison et al, 2011). Other factors that affect sharing vary from informing others about a certain subject to self-fulfilment.

Since it has infiltrated people’s daily lives and is part of society, advertising is easy to understand and, consequently, easy for consumers to criticize. Seeking to reach more critical consumers (Portilho, 2009; Semprini, 2006; Lewis and Bridges, 2011) with a strong presence in social media, advertisers have spent decades investing in audio-visual productions for promotion, generating effects through brand construction and propagation of products and services, among many other strategies. It is not a surprise that they would transfer production to the Internet seeking to explore communication circuits in these spaces.

To understand the aesthetic approximations between games and pervasive advertising, this paper employed a systematic study of the monitoring and video sharing website Unruly Viral Video Chart.[4] Founded in 2006, the website is the biggest database for collecting the history of sharing in the social web with more than 521 billion views tracked so far and 24 million video actions collected every 24 hours based mainly on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, according to its website. The site is divided into general and advertising categories, and the user can filter the search through global regions, such as North America, Latin America, Asia, etc.

It is important to underline that this methodological procedure was made to select videos of pervasive advertising most shared in the world. This is because we understand the act of sharing as an experience of social expansion, characteristic of pervasive games and part of the commercial dynamics of spreadability, central for measuring the success of advertising campaigns. Although this methodological procedure focuses on the most shared videos, it is the experience recorded in these productions of pervasive advertising which is the object of analysis. It is this experience which is performative, blurs fiction and reality, and has overlapping aesthetic links with pervasive games.

By searching the system in the specific time frame of the past four years (2012-2015) and using an ample geographic locus,[5] 40 videos were collected, representing the ten most viewed in each of the analysed years. Of course, there are limitations to this methodological procedure. A wider sample could provide other kinds of aesthetic experience not listed in this analysis, but this effort seeks to represent the social expansion provided by pervasive advertising in which spreadability is central to measure the success of the commercial campaigns.

These ten advertising videos presented the main characteristics of pervasiveness, that is, the capacity to infiltrate urban spaces and people’s daily lives. Seeking to analyse the filmic construction, and using the decoupage method of the aesthetic elements of the collected videos (Vanoye and Goliot-Lêtê, 2009), three characteristics were identified as being present in both pervasive games and pervasive advertising.[6] In the appropriation of urban spaces, pervasive production constructs a Magic Circle (Huizinga, 2001) that mediates the relationship between what is enactment and what is daily life, eventually making frontiers between reality and fictionality more fluid. In the construction of the event, subjects are stimulated to perform along with the agents of the scene who are aware of the fictionality of the action. Yet, the social expansion made possible by pervasive experience, which exceeds the limits of the Magic Circle, through imagination and desire of participating in the scene, allows the extension of pleasure through the action of sharing the content. Key indicators of these characteristics are italicised in the descriptions below (Table 1).

Campaign Year Company Analysis
Push to Add Drama 2012 TNT On April 10, 2012, Belgian TV channel TNT promoted an action that consisted of a button in the middle of a square. A simple performance was stimulated through the push of a button and a cinematographic scene would start around it. Ambulances, fights, gunfire, and gangsters would emerge in a chaotic choreographed enactment, while the passers-by would turn into spectators of a show that suddenly broke into their real lives.
Unlock the 007 in You 2012 Coca-Cola For promotion of Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) from the 007 series, the campaign aimed to provoke the passengers in a train station to complete the mission of getting to platform 07 in 70 seconds, overcoming several obstacles on the way. Upon completing the challenge, the contestants won exclusive tickets to the movie premiere.
Delite-O-Matic 2012 Fantastic Delites Using the pervasive technology Arduíno,[7] a machine was constructed in the city of Adelaide, Australia, which sent challenges to interactors in a shopping centre. The idea of the campaign was to challenge people to see how far they would go for a packet of Fantastic Delites snacks. During 13 hours, passers-by were challenged to push the machine button five thousand times, as well as dancing, jumping, and performing other activities to win the snack prize.
Test Drive 2013 Pepsico This was in response to journalist Travis Okulski doubting the veracity of a Pepsi ad showing a test drive with race car driver Jeff Gordon. Thus, they produced a second event, also with Gordon, in which he played a taxi driver involved in an intense police hunt with the journalist inside the car.
Reignite Your Va Va Voom 2013 Renault Part of an integrated campaign consisting of two videos in which participants are encouraged to push the new Va Va Voom button in the new Renault Clio car during a test drive. By pushing the button, the environment transforms into a scenography that simulates and plays with France stereotypes: a baguette seller, l’amour, cafes, bistros, cabaret dancers, and shirtless French men who dance around the car
A Dramatic Surprise on an Ice-Cold Day 2013 TNT Repetition of the action “Push to add drama” but made in Holland and with more opportunities for interaction with the audience. It added elements for the interactor to choose from, apart from inserting them in the show, promoting the interchange of characters, scenarios, and subjects stimulated to participate in the action.
A Telekinect Coffee Shop Surprise 2013 MGM For the promotion of the 2013 remake of Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976), the campaign portrayed a scene of a girl in a coffee shop. After an incident, she has an outburst of anger and her telekinetic powers appear, frightening everybody and herself. She throws a person against the wall, drags tables and chairs, and knocks books from shelves with the power of her mind.
Devil Baby Attack 2014 Fox This was for promotion of the movie Devil’s Due (Matt Bettinelli-OlpinTyler Gillett, 2014), by Fox, in which a baby stroller driven by remote control is left behind with a ‘baby’ crying in the streets of New York. When someone approaches to help, a “demonic” baby gets up and attacks, scaring the passers-by.
Eyes on the Road 2014 Samsung Produced for Volkswagen, the action was aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of car accidents caused by using a cell phone while driving. In a movie theatre, a device for short-range data transmission sent a message to all the cell phones in the room. As the attendees looked at their phones, the scene on the screen turned into a terrible accident.
Diversity & Inclusion – Love has no Label 2015 Ad Council This campaign aimed to make people more conscious of their own implicit bias. As people gathered in a square in California in front of a black X-ray screen, they would see projections of skeletons. After a celebration of love with kisses, hugs and jokes, people would come to the front of the screen, showing their differences and revealing that love has no ethnicity, gender, age, or religion.
Show Your Disney Side 2015 Disney In a shopping mall in New York, Disney characters appeared as shadows behind a screen, inviting people to interact with them, dancing, playing, and enacting classical roles, until the screen opens and the characters emerged, showing that Disney’s magic can move us away from daily life and offer a ludic moment.

Table 1

The productions in the table above were then divided based on the following premises: 1) infiltrates urban space and people’s daily lives (Pervasivity); 2) elicits a performance from the subjects in their daily lives (Ordinary Performance), even if that performance is minimal; 3) establishes a fictional agreement that blurs the barriers between reality and fiction (Agreement of Micro-Suspension) and 4) uses ludic elements to construct a Magic Circle (Permeable Magic Circle), commonly understood as a metaphor to define the membrane that mediate the borders between the game and the non-game world.


From the characteristics listed above (which permeate both pervasive games codes and pervasive advertising), this research proposes a reflection on each one of these characteristics, using the collected data as a basis for discussing the identified elements.

  1. Agreement of Micro-Suspension: The Establishment of a Fictional Arrangement

 In early 2013, Nascar driver Jeff Gordon participated in a pervasive advertising campaign for Pepsi. Gordon played a consumer who went to a car dealership for a test drive. However, the test drive was as thrilling as a car race, to the surprise and panic of the sales person in the back seat of the car. The video created controversy and its truthfulness was questioned. The video is the brand’s most viewed with 44.4 million views, 156,000 positive marks, 6,000 negative marks, and more than 20,000 comments many of which highlighted the false characteristics of the action. Among the critics of the campaign journalist Travis Okulski, from the automotive industry blog Jalopnik, wrote a report entitled “This Pepsi advertisement with Jeff Gordon scaring the car seller is 100% fake,” (Okulski, 2013). In response, Pepsi produced a second event, again with race car driver Jeff Gordon, in which he played a taxi driver in an intense police chase with Okulski inside the car, which generated enormous impact on the channel (cf. Oliveira, 2015).

These types of adverts that propose a game with those present in the scene are called prankvertising and are among some of the pervasive advertising actions found during the research. Other examples are “Devil Baby Attack” and “A Telekinect Coffee Shop Surprise.” This prank aesthetic has already been explored a number of times in the format Candid Camera, created in 1948 (Luckerson, 2014). Also, according to an empirical qualitative and quantitative study developed in Lund University in Sweden, Sutheerawong and Siripiyavatana (2013/2014) state that the prankvertising phenomenon can influence purchase decisions from the exploitation of emotions and involvement of the consumer.

However, pervasive advertising is not based only in prankvertising but in a ludic aspect that consists of the creation of a universe in which the frontiers between reality and fiction are permeable, especially through the use of a realistic aesthetic that simulates or registers daily facts. It is not about questioning the truthfulness of actions but understanding them as a pragmatic framework that seeks to blur the boundaries.

Arguably, it is not possible to make a naïve and radical distinction between res factae and res fictae, as Jauss (1989) would say. Factuality and fictionality are targets of intense debates on the representation of reality and the imagined reality, as in the works of Le Goff (1996) and Ricouer (1986). Thus, as both the real and the fictional feed each other, it is important to keep in mind that reality is an individually-built representation and the fictional is a manifestation of the constructed representation. In both cases, there is a coherence between the constructed worlds, forming a diegesis (Aumont, 2011; Genette, 1983).

According to Jean-Marie Schaeffer (1999), the tools of fiction are the same as the ludic shared pretending. They are conditioned to the cognitive processes that allow the decoding of the symbolic marks contracted in the narrative. When there is no possibility of decoding these elements, there is no ludic shared pretending, but there is a delusion caused by the extension of a pragmatic framework that limits the space in which representation operates through these mimetic elements.

In this constructed fictional world, a balance of forces is necessary in a make-believe dimension for full comprehension of the rules of the created universe in which representations lead to truths established in the narrative (Walton, 2014). This make-believe is not an absolute belief but an experience inside the rules established in the fictional agreement. Differentiating fiction from non-fiction, Kendall Walton states that the former is related to the creation of coherent truths inside the constructed universe, while non-fiction, or truth, is a rhetoric formulated in and for the sphere of daily life. It is important to bear in mind that pretending is something extremely relevant to the understanding of interpretative games in pervasive environments, since in this exchange between truth and untruth these two spheres do not confront, but merge in the same aesthetic experience, creating fictional worlds based in the very world “of the truth,” or of the common world.

This make-believe is similar to a voluntary suspension of disbelief, a concept originally presented by Samuel Coleridge in the 19th century in the preface for the second edition of the book Lyrical Ballads. According to Coleridge, the voluntary suspension of disbelief is related to a poetic faith and carries an imaginative participation. That is, voluntary suspension of disbelief does not correspond to delusion or illusion, but to an agreement established between the reader and the narrative.

This concept of suspension of disbelief has already been widely discussed in the games field and in interactive narratives studies. Janet Murray proposes revisiting Coleridge’s expression stating that when we enter into a fictional world we do not only “suspend” our critical ability but we also exercise a creative ability. On the other hand, McGonigal (2003) responds to the association between the idea of voluntary suspension of disbelief and the essentially active spectator, proposing a conception in which performance is one of the main characteristics of a pervasive game. Thus, to this staging, especially in ARGs, the players voluntarily suspend their disbelief and disregard the insertion of non-diegetic elements in the game.

McGonigal (2003) states that this pretending is a conscious decision of the player to ignore the metacommunicative elements which separate the frontiers between the game and the ordinary world, aiming to prolong the pleasures of the experience. However, the frontiers established between these two worlds are permeable and are in constant negotiation (Nieuwdorp, 2007), causing micro-suspensions of disbelief. For a few seconds, the distinctions between reality and fiction lose their foundations (Oliveira, 2015; Oliveira, 2016), making the subjects question whether what is happening is real, as it is based on their daily life, or staged.

This phenomenon is close to the premise of TINAG (This Is Not a Game), the fundamental premise of ARGs. TINAG serves as a useful reminder of the limits of the boundaries of what is reality and what is fiction; it reflects the immersion of players in the diegetic universe created by the ARG. In this temporary suspension, the participant imagines him or herself as a part of the narrative. Such interactive matrices are sensory-cognitive and affective. It is a fictional agreement not formalized by the game, but established in the very act of playing for the player who already knows the interactional dynamics of the ARG. In other words, there is no rule explicitly presented to the players when making such a fictional agreement. The decision to adhere to TINAG is made by the player seeking a totalized experience from the game. The experience of the interactor is directed by curiosity, which is encouraged by the suspense of the narrative (Baroni, 2006). TINAG maximizes the experiences of players, allowing them to surpass the boundaries between reality and fiction, as an agreement between the gamer and the production. This is a commonality between ARGs and pervasive games more broadly.

The players pretend they are not playing a game in order to maximize their own ARG gameplay experience. Jane McGonigal (2003) names this “play pretend” phenomenon the “Pinocchio effect.” Players voluntarily suspend their disbelief, disregarding the insertion of non-diegetic elements in the game. McGonigal affirms that this pretending is a conscious decision to prolong the pleasures of the experience and the act of pretending to believe produces further opportunities for participation and collaboration. This can mean ignoring all of the metacommunicational elements that can include the physical, temporal and social boundaries of what is the game. And this fluidity of boundaries, as Niewdorp appointed, is not solely a characteristic of ARGs, but is provoked by the porous membrane of the magic circle which separates the ordinary world and playfulness of pervasive games in general.

In a scenario where participants have 70 seconds to reach the platform on a train station, the person with dozens of dogs, the violinist, and the elegant woman are non-diegetic elements for an ordinary fact that results in a suspension of disbelief of reality. Despite that, what matters to the subject are the experiences proposed by the challenge. By suspending disbelief, these non-diegetic elements are not relevant, except as obstacles, and do not stop the subject’s engagement (Brown and Cairns, 2004) in what is proposed by the game.

  1. Permeable Magic Circle: Usage of Ludic Elements in the Construction of Experience

One key concept around immersive processes in Games Studies is the Magic Circle metaphor initially proposed by Johan Huizinga. This is the premise that games have a special and temporal universe of their own that delimits the frontiers of the game world and the ordinary world (Juul, 2010) and where “the laws and costumes of ordinary life lose value” (Huizinga, 2001, p. 15). From this idea briefly presented by Huizinga, other Games Studies researchers (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004; Juul, 2008) ponder how the Magic Circle is formed not only by the structure of the rules built by the game but how it also needs players to reaffirm the illusion of the built world. Thus, the borders of the Magic Circle are constantly negotiated and defined by players themselves.

Applying the concept of the Magic Circle to pervasive games, Nieuwdorp (2005) proposes that in this type of game a permeable membrane is created through which the elements of the game slide to the real world. The question is not to consider the Magic Circle as something that necessarily encapsulates the player, suppressing space-time and projecting them in a zone of alternatives, but to see it as more than a space-time suppression. This mediation, from the frontiers of the Magic Circle, should be thought of in a fluid manner, in terms of permeable frontiers, in the sense that they can be clearly identified and allow fiction and reality to meet.

As Jakko Stenros (2014) points out, the term Magic Circle is broad and has generated significant controversy since it was first used by Salen and Zimmerman. Frequently understood as a barrier that separates what is game and what is ordinary life, many critics have followed these authors’ works (Stenros, 2014; Juul, 2008; Moore, 2011; Consalvo, 2009) and presented discussions in various games conferences for over a decade. According to Stenros, despite all the criticism around the term, it is still a useful and powerful metaphor, even if its definition or purpose for discussion on games is not clear. However, Stenros considers Montola’s definition one of the most enlightening developed so far. This considers the Magic Circle as a ritualistic contract in which “the function of isolation of the contractual barrier is to forbid players to bring external motivations and personal stories to the world of the game and stop them from taking events from the game to the kingdom of ordinary life” (Montola et al., 2009, p. 11). When considering it as an established barrier of social and nonmaterial nature, the concept of the Magic Circle gains other dimensions for thinking through the relations of individuals with the proposed activity, be it the game or a ludic practice. Such a proposal goes against Goffman’s (1961) thinking, as he considers games as tools that show us “in a simple way, structures of real life situations. They take us away from serious life, making us submerge in a demonstration of its possibilities. We go back to the world as gamesmen, prepared to see what is structural about reality” (p. 34).

This magical dimension of the game is also present in the effects of advertisement. It is neither about gamification, in the sense of the appropriation of game logic in other contexts (Deterding et al, 2001), nor is it a conversion of games applied to marketing (Bogost, 2015). Game elements can indeed be present in advertisement actions, such as the agency perception (Murray, 2003), pushing a red button, and seeing the action develop in other events (Push to add Drama–TNT) or participants being challenged in higher levels to reach the final goal (Delite-O-Matic–Fantastic Delites). However, what is in question is not the gamification strategies or the games design applied in the proposed actions. It is about more aesthetic elements that promote a certain type of experience common to pervasive games and pervasive advertisement.

The concept of magic that interests us in thinking about the aesthetic elements that permeate the two forms of production in question, can also be considered in terms of what constitutes fiction. If the notion of a Magic Circle is understood as a mediation tool between the ordinary world and a constructed world where special and temporal rules follow the same order of the ordinary world and is established from the set of rules and systems freely built, it is also about fictionality as a creation of super-reality (Walty, 2001) that transcends society.

From an advertisement perspective, magic and enchantment are the foundations for the creation of consumers’ desire for something they do not have. Based on Joseph Campbell’s (2011) concept, people possess an intrinsic force for imaginary motivation fed by emotions. According to Campbell, it is in this emotional effervescence of daydreaming and fantasy that desires are stimulated by consumption through imagination.

If the Magic Circle can be understood not only from the game itself but also from the fictional status, magic allowed by advertisement, and also by the game, can offer us a type of fictional immersion present in the game (Arsenault, 2005) that seeks to provide meaning to the event. It is possible to observe this construction of magic in almost all analysed cases, but it is most evident in “Show Your Disney Side.” In a shopping mall in Long Island, New York, Disney characters showed up as shadows behind a screen, “to bring fun to a simple and ordinary event such as walk in a shopping mall. Our hidden cameras were there to capture this moment,” according the Disney blog.[8]

People interacted with the shadows of the characters, dancing and even role playing the classic characters, until the screen opened and the Disney characters emerged, showing that everybody has their magic side: “you simply can’t wait to share. It’s the side of you that laughs more, screams more, and just plain lives life to the fullest. It’s the side of you that comes out to play the moment you and your family step through the gates of Walt Disney World”, as it reads in the park’s website.[9]

According to Winfried Nöth (1996), the end of pure magic came in the modern era, when mythical thought became incompatible with the scientific. In this rationalist environment, pure magic had to be reconfigured to survive the dominance of Science. According to Nöth, it could later be found in advertising practice by offering, through metaphors, their products and services as something miraculous and necessary to our survival. Nöth (1996) points out that “the target of this hyperbolic rhetoric is not very different from the magician’s practices. Both seek as much influence over the audience as possible” (p. 36).

It is in this construction of the magical enchanted universe, far away from ordinary life, offering a ludic moment of pleasing experiences that pervasive advertisement is based. These practices mark the necessity of the creation of ludic experiences that re-signifies not only urban space but also subjects’ daily lives, offering another dimension –  a magical one that moves away from the difficulties of reality. This is the primary conception of what games represent through the creation of a permeable Magic Circle that mediates individuals’ relationships with the ludic dimension based on the real –  inviting subjects to enter this ephemeral universe.

  1. Ordinary Performance: A Subject’s Performance Invitation in their Ordinary Life

Performance Studies has its origins back in the 1930s and 1940s. It is directly related to drama and oral communication, according to Zumthor (2000), as an action put into the scene. For Richard Schechner (1998), performance, (and the same is true for every form of art), is transformative and should be understood from its transcendence enacted by the ritual in which the performer can be emotionally transported to a world beyond our ordinary world. According to Marvin Carlson et al (2010), as of the 1980s, studies of performance as an interdisciplinary field start to understand performance as something not only focused on the performer’s theatricality (Zumthor, 2000) but also on the performatic act per se and its possible interactions with the audience (Schechner, 1988; Goffman, 1978).

It is evident that the player’s acting is a fundamental element for pervasive games to function. Subjects do not act the same way as they do in real spaces; they act in fictional spaces overlapping with real spaces, conducting time in its own fictional manner, in agreement with the way it is expected in the game and by their peers that perform alongside them or watch the action. Therefore, a player’s performance during a pervasive game can be understood in relation to the subjects in the game and the audience interaction. Such audiences can be formed by other players during a scene and also by individuals who are watching the scene. It can also be understood in the sense of performances post-event. These can be player actions, central to a set of dynamics proposed by game design, which occur subsequent to the experience or event itself (journal entries, post-experience testimonials, audio-video records for documentation of the action, or sharing the experience with other players who were not present in the live-action as with ARGs, etc). In this sense, the notion of social expansion within pervasive games (Montola et al, 2009), when applied to this type of advertisement, can be understood as the circulation of communication in which spreadability becomes a central element that exceeds the spheres of the action itself. If, for pervasive games, these images serve for sociability between peers and are not part of the action or the later propagation of its genre, pervasive advertisement uses these records to increase the spreadability potential of the enacted scene, seeking to transform interactors into replicators of content through social media. Pervasive advertisement is focused on this type of audience: interactors that engage not only in the produced action but also in a performance is characterised by content sharing on the Internet, spreading the advertising message through social media and defending it as evangelizers of the brand. Spreadability, in that sense, “recognizes the social importance of connections between individuals, connections that are more and more visible (and are amplified) by social media (Jenkins et al. 2013, p. 6).

Such evangelizers do not only play the role of spreading the brand but constantly announce a desire to take part in that projected scene. This desire of entering another world, without completely distancing from daily reality, is the foundation of pervasive advertisement, and may explain why this type of production is among the most shared type according to Unruly Viral Video. Also, by thinking about the spectators who watch advertisement videos on YouTube, this research suggests that the mediated audience enters fiction through a body that does not belong to them, but they see themselves immersed from an “identified interactivity” (Goffman, 2008). That is, imaginative immersion (Ermi and Mäyrä, 2005) is anchored by identification of another that represents the self of the one who watches. The act of sharing is one of the conditions for prolongation of immersive pleasure through the participative act of spreading content to the web, central for the success of the action. They are the ones who propagate the brand just for the pleasure of participating in the ludic activity, even if just imaginarily, as it can be observed in the following example of how individuals project their desire of being immersed in this type of action:

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figures 1, 2 & 3: Comments posted in response to videos of the actions “Push to Add Drama” and “A Dramatic Surprise on an Ice-Cold Day,” both posted on the Turner Benelux YouTube channel[10] and in response to the video “Two Unsuspecting Guys take the New Renault Clio for a test drive” on Renault UK YouTube channel.[11]

Of course, the samples outlined above show but a fraction of the more than 81,000 comments posted on videos collected during this mapping. A qualitative study of these comments would be necessary in seeking to understand the discourses present in this type of interaction. The samples of comments used here simply illustrate that the desire of taking part in the experience offered by the advertising action goes beyond the desire of consuming a product. Therefore, the magic allowed by this type of action invites performances by the interactors in the spaces of daily life, exceeds realities and fictionalities, and shares aesthetic characteristics common to pervasive games, in the sense of offering another dimension beyond the ordinary world, even if just through imagination and the desire of being present in the projected scene.

Final Considerations

Pervasive games and advertising have a longstanding structural relationship. As discussed at the beginning of this paper, pervasive games were incorporated as marketing tools in campaign planning since the late 1990s/early 2000s. Since then, research studies have sought to define pervasive games as a genre. This paper begins to explore the connections between pervasive games and what we term pervasive advertising. It seeks to better understand this type of advertisement and its capacity to infiltrate urban spaces and offer an experience that goes beyond the reality of individuals’ daily lives. Such a premise is part of a culturalist perspective on the notion of pervasiveness, understanding it not only though the use of digital devices but also as a procedure appropriated by contemporary advertising practices. Thus, our perspective defines pervasiveness according to the capacity to infiltrate the urban veins of a city without being noticed, rather than in terms of technology alone.

Seeking to identify the approximation and distance between these two kinds of pervasive productions, the analysis focuses on the following assumptions that underlie both pervasive gaming and pervasive advertising: the first concerns a social expansion not only in the event itself but also with a larger audience who watch the audio-visual records of the live experience. This social expansion is directly related to the engagement of the interactor in the scene and viewer of the audio-visual records. There is also the establishment of a fictional agreement developed through the fluidity of boundaries between reality and fiction. This provides a space-time expansion for both interactors at the event and spectators of the records of the pervasive experience. In addition, new experiences occur on the performed body, causing involvement of the subjects as part of the interaction, through an imaginary immersion based on the desire to be part of the experience promoted by pervasive advertising. Sharing the recordings is a way of prolonging the pleasure of immersive processes which move between the real and the fictional.  In participating in the live event or watching the recorded videos, the pervasive experience engages the interactors with the production and provokes the occurrence of involuntary micro-suspensions of disbelief in the sense that, for a few seconds, the limiting notions of what is real loses their foundations.

Considering that this genre of game tends to shift between the frontiers of reality and fiction, and the composition of experiences is a mix between the two worlds, pervasive advertisement also follows the same characteristic, playing with the inherent aesthetic of the real, be it for its own representation of reality, or using the aesthetics for simulating the real. Thus, it is common to frame this type of advertisement within a hidden camera game that simulates or indicates the experience’s veracity, or by using testimonial aesthetics. But more than the aesthetic elements of the video, it is important to underline that the performative experience in the event is central to understanding the blurring frontiers provoked by the porous membrane (Nieuwdorp, 2005) of the Magic Circle, which provides the pervasive experience for the players. These aesthetic issues refer to an experience provided by live performance, that can only be measured when the researcher is present at the place of the event. As it would be impossible to be present in these places, which happen at random for the subject not involved in the planning of the campaign, our focus was made on the audiovisual records of the pervasive advertising events. Assuming that the sharing in social media is a way to provide a social expansion, which prolongs the immersive pleasure and the desire to be part of experience, the tools of tracking data of most shared advertising videos offered by Unruly Viral Video Chart was used, collecting 40 videos in the period from 2012 to 2015, of which ten were pervasive advertising and were analysed in this research. This procedure provided a tool for verifying the most shared videos, identifying those which display the aesthetic characteristics of pervasive advertising.

In addition to pointing towards an increased use of this advertising strategy during the period of analysis, the intention of this work was to identify which elements are similar between pervasive games and pervasive advertising, seeking to go beyond the game itself as well as the promotional productions, covering aspects related to aesthetic elements in the consumption experience in both productions. More than identify what games are used in marketing, or strategies of marketing used to promote games, the relevance of this discussion is to understand which elements cross over into both productions, showing the importance of pervasive ludic production to offering intense experiences of consumption So, this paper focuses on the reproduction of a marketing logic that has specific characteristics that put it in the growing advertising category of pervasive advertisement as part of an experiential consumption, where companies are increasingly offering diverse types of experiences as part of marketing strategies. In addition, this genre of contemporary advertisement encourages the participation and performance of interactors, both acting in the proposed activity as well as sharing and engaging others on social networks and spreading content through the media (Jenkins et al, 2013).

These pervasive actions seek to frame effects through a performative experience of involvement with interactors promoting social, spatial, and temporal expansions (Montola et al, 2009). By transforming the brand into diegesis, a fictional universe is created. In this fictional universe, immersion and engagement are part of the possible aesthetic experience. The notions of reality are understood and a fictional agreement is made so the maximization of experience can happen in satisfactory ways for the consumer. Linked to the encouragement of performance by the subjects, pervasive advertising promotes constructed effects, be it in the pervasive experience or the act of sharing the audio-visual records through social networks. Such elements permeate pervasive games as well as pervasive advertising and they are part of the experiential moment of the search for tangible pleasures characteristic of ludic society (Stenros et al, 2007) where ludic experience is present in social domains, transiting from leisure to consumption and all other human relationships.


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Thaiane Oliveira holds a PHD in Communication from Federal Fluminense University with doctoral internship in Uppsala University (Sweden). She is a Professor of the Postgraduate Program in Communication of Federal Fluminense University (Brazil).


[1] We understand Alternate Reality Games as one of the four stable categories of pervasive games, as indicated by Montola et al (2009).

[2] Available at:

[3] Available at:

[4] The company was purchased by News Corp in 2015, after the conduction of this research. At the time of the research for this article, Unruly Viral Video Chart was a start-up founded in 2006, acting independently as a tool for tracking and measuring video sharing and delivering verifiable video views via paid media across mobile, desktop and tablet devices.

[5] There were different geographical ranges in platforms, showing results of sharing in different regions of the world. However, it was also possible to search for most shared videos from the entire world. In this research, the broadest range was chosen, as the interest of this research was not to comprehend this kind of production in a specific region, but the potential spreadability of these campaigns more generally. Future studies could take a more specific geographic focus.

[6] It is worth mentioning that the method of analysis applied does not consist of analysing structural aspects of the films, but rather their filmic materiality and observing the points of proximity and distance between this type of production and pervasive games.

[7] Arduino is an open source computer hardware and single-board microcontrollers.

[8] Available at:

[9] Available at: