The Book – Part 4 – Open education, free play, and pervasive gameplay…

mario-luigi-figures-funny-previewI hope that those, who have had the opportunity to read the book or parts of it, have gained new or further insights into a more holistic and pragmatic means for investigating, conceptualising, and implementing playful and gameful experiences. I have briefly touched on the premise and inspirations for the book in my previous posts.

Part 4 of this blog post series will quickly touch on Chapter 1, which provides an overview of the barriers of space and time in teaching and learning. This chapter frames open education and authentic learning experiences within the context of “free” play and the pervasiveness of play and gameplay.

“… there have been implicit dimensions of openness if you look through the history of education, such as how children educate themselves through free play and exploration, which can be interpreted as a prototypical example for openness in education…” Arnab (2020, p. 5)

As a means for facilitating experiential learning, gameplay that draws from the connection between ‘pervasiveness’ of play and its pedagogical relevance aligns with the converging of foundational (to know), meta (to act), and humanistic (to value) knowledge of 21st Century Learning.

“Playfulness as a characteristic of hybridity in open education relies on the value of joy, creativity, curiosity, exploration, and experimentation in learning to promote agency and autonomy (Dalsgaard et al., 2017). Aligning with the need for agency and autonomy (Dalsgaard et al., 2017) through the flexibility of choice (Muñoz et al., 2013), open education covers a range of practices aimed at broadening access to education for those wanting to learn.” Arnab (2020, p. 5).

Intentional and meaningful learning can be facilitated through gameplay. The introduction of intentional rules (as the boundaries of “free” play) can provide a structure and context for when learning is deemed to start and how a player could then level up in the experience as part of the ‘action-feedback’ cycle. Free play and exploration could still be embedded within the ‘magic circle’ (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004) – a term that is often debated but it is an easy illustration of how boundaries of play and gameplay can move with context and with personal intention and exploration. Take the exploration aspect of games such as the Tomb Raider and Uncharted Series as examples. Players are playing by the mechanics (rules) of the game(play) as they traverse through the game narrative in a linear fashion. However, a level of freedom is enabled for players to personalise their strategies and routes, and also to opt for exploring the environment for additional and often hidden missions, challenges, and treasures. The value of joy, creativity, curiosity, exploration, and experimentation through players’ “perceived” agency and autonomy is definitely demonstrated and encouraged here. The pervasiveness here refers to the transferability of the metacognition process into practices in the players’ day to day lives, including their formal education, informal learning, and social interactions.

“Such a learning is often described as a metacognition process – a reflective process, where learners constantly monitor and evaluate their progress during problem solving. Learners can reflect on whether their current level of understanding is sufficient, often occurs in formal and informal settings throughout their lifetime” Arnab (2020, p. 6)

The boundaries between spatial, temporal, and social aspects of games are further removed by pervasive games (often literally). All games provide a context of play in terms of space in one way or another – such as game environments that are based on realistic or fictional references. Pervasive games open up opportunities for physical spaces to be part of gameplay, and the merging of digital/physical contexts can happen. Take games such as ‘Ingress’ and ‘Pokémon Go’ that transform ordinary spaces and landmarks into playgrounds and game locations, expanding gameplay from the digital into physical, social, and community spaces and vice versa. Players visit landmarks to collect game objects and are also able to collaborate with other players in specific missions associated with physical spaces.

My view on pervasive gaming and gameplay aligns with Pløhn et al. (2015), where a pervasive game can be defined as a game that is spatially and temporally pervasive relative to the player´s everyday life for the whole duration of the game. This way, pervasive games differ from regular games that take place in limited and well-defined settings as they expand the boundaries of such settings into reality. This view also aligns with pervasive learning that is discussed in Chapter 2 as a precursor to the discussions on the hybrid learning perspective.

As the view is technology-agnostic, for a game to be pervasive, it does not have to be completely dependent on the location-based aspects. The aspect of mystery and narrative that engages our curiosity can often open up opportunities for a playful experience to contextually crosses spatial, temporal, and social dimensions. Chapter 1 discusses this perspective by looking at other gameful and game-like experiences, such as Escape Rooms, mystery boxes, and Alternate Reality Gaming, that are also pervasive in nature. Examples also include ‘eSports’, a competitive multi-player video gaming (often broadcasted on the internet),  which has also brought a new level of “social pervasiveness” to gaming.

The social construct of learning through play is further emphasised in today’s networked and connected society. Learning experience is not isolated to a single geographic or virtual location. Mobile information and communication technology connect us to anybody, from anywhere, at anytime. This has changed people’s socio-spatial relationships.

The book suggests hybridity in education inspired by playful and gameful aspects. The way we contextualise and put together engaging and meaningful experiences in games should inform the way we overlap and cross-fertilise the often separate educational dimensions and modalities, such as pedagogical constructs, physical-digital learning environments, academic and non-academic spaces, formal and informal contexts, teacher-student relationships, and academic and personal identities.

How do we “game-master” this experience in an intentional way (with a healthy dose of easter eggs)? Could the environment in which the context of learning is situated allow, for instance, the challenging nature of the transition between education and work in its wider societal context to be addressed? Could the foundational (to know), meta (to act), and humanistic (to value) knowledge of 21st Century Learning be converged in the playful and gameful learning scenarios? Or could these be leveled up as missions and quests?

The hybridity of modalities of acquisition and participation with knowledge and skills development across space, context, and time supports the configuration of intentional and incidental learning experiences at the speed of need. Pervasiveness in this case involves finding and making sense of the connections between experiences, situations, devices, and people that learners have available to them.

Let me know what you think about the discussions in the book.

Parts of the book including Chapter 1 is available for preview.


How to cite the book:

Arnab, S. (2020). Game Science in Hybrid Learning Spaces. (1 ed.) (Digital Games, Simulation and Learning; No. 6). NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

“This book provides valuable insights and discussions into the engaging and pervasive nature of games and gameplay, and how hybrid education that breaks the barriers of space and time can benefit from the science and practice of games – i.e. the use of games as instruments for teaching and learning and also the use of game creation as a hybrid educational process.” Ian Livingstone, CBE (Arnab, 2020, Foreword)


Pløhn, T., Louchart, S., and Aalberg, T. (2015). Dynamic pervasive storytelling in long lasting learning games. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 13(3), pp. 193-205.

Royalty-Free photo: Selective focus photography of Super Mario and Luigi figurines | PickPik

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