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Playing with reality

posted on 24.01.2017, 00:02 authored by Davies, Hugh
This thesis introduces and interrogates an emerging genre of games that I term ‘exhaustive games’. Exhaustive games combine aspects of transmedia games with the real-world problem-solving ambitions of serious games. Tracing the history of influences that have shaped this genre of games, this thesis investigates what has brought about their recent emergence and how their origins, ambitions and networked forms of delivery exert influence on the solutions they offer. Drawing on recent work by one of the central advocates of these game types, designer Jane McGonigal, and contrasting her ideas with the theoretical work of social theorist and philosophical interlocker Slavoj Žižek, this study brings an important critique to the field of games that attempt to solve real world problems through play. Through a field survey of exhaustive games, a critique of interactivity is undertaken and games are assessed for their ability to produce alternatives to current socio/political and environmental issues, or what Žižek has called a universal exception. The practice based research focuses on two major games: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bluebird AR through which the performance of belief is explored, and the independently created game The Darkest Puzzle, a game that questions not only how solutions are arrived at, but also how problems are formulated, and the very capacity of game design or play to arrive at effective solutions. In doing so, this game highlights the problem of a breakdown of symbolic efficiency, a syndrome that gives rise to a perspective of paranoia, which inturn offers a new and potentially useful logic of perception. I undertake this project as I believe the celebration of both the gameness and newness of exhaustive games has obscured crucial aspects central to the solutions they produce. Fundamental to my critique is that these games do not exist as productive ways of addressing contemporary problems but instead as a means of distracting from them.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Vince Dziekan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture