Week 8: Digital Urban Gaming (Miriam Harvey)

This week’s topic is mobile phone games, but in this blog post the usual case study of Pokemon Go has been replaced. At the time of writing this, in England, bumping into people in the street while being distracted playing Pokemon Go would be highly inappropriate. However our mobile phones are playing along in a huge collaborative endeavour. They are providing location-data which we see displayed, as a population, in televised government briefings (Figure 1) in a way that feels like a game score board. The rules of the game are to be seen (digitally, by providing location-data) in the right location ie residential is good and transit stations bad.

Mobility slide showing Google Mobility Data (UK)

Figure 1: Mobility slide for UK Government briefing on 23 May 2020 (Gov.UK, 2020). Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/slides-and-datasets-to-accompany-coronavirus-press-conferences


The next step in the gamification of daily life is to move from population level surveillance to player level, through a contact-tracing app. Schechner and Strasburg (2020) provide a good explanation of current international debates on some governments’ centralised vs Google/Apple’s decentralised approaches, with the Bluetooth and location services options illustrated in a video-game style animation (Figure 2).

Joanna Stern video on Covid19 contract tracing app as a game 20/05/20

Figure 2: Tracking apps explained using video game style animation (Schechner and Strasburg, 2020). Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-google-start-to-win-over-europe-to-their-virus-tracking-technology-11589716800


Contact-tracing apps are based on mobile phones exchanging a key or token with other mobile phones within a certain proximity to each other. This transfer could be understood as a “co-surveillance mechanism” which de souza e Silva and Sutko (2009:15) refer to in the context of “mobile location-aware games” (Ibid, p2). The contact-tracing apps fits their definition of such games (pp. 3-4) as “(1) they use the city space as the game board, and (2) they use mobile devices as interfaces for game play”. They are “pervasive games” that “never stop and may intertwine with the player’s ordinary life”. They are a form of “Location-based mobile games (LBMGs)” whose “distinct characteristic […] is that they use mobile technologies with location awareness […] as the game interface”.

The question to end on is what is the role of the human player? The mobile devices are communicating with each other, but they need to be carried by their human users as they move through the urban space. The game’s purpose is to warn players when they may have been infected, and therefore need to isolate to break the virus’ chain of transmission. The reward for participating could be understood using Foth et al’s (2016:15-16) idea of “citizens at play” and their “civic capital” which they define as “a measure of a citizen’s actual and potential impact on contributing, participating and engaging in the civic surrounds”.

Contact-tracing app users are ‘citizens at play’.




Foth, M., Hudson-Smith, A., and Gifford, D. (2016). Smart cities, social capital, and citizens at play: A critique and a way forward. In Olleros, F. X. & Zhegu, M. (Eds.) Research Handbook on Digital Transformations. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, United Kingdom, pp. 203-221.

Gov.UK (2020). Slides, datasets and transcripts to accompany coronavirus press conferences. Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Guidance and support. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/slides-and-datasets-to-accompany-coronavirus-press-conferences

Schechner, S. and Strasburg. J. (2020). Apple, Google Start to Win Over Europe to Their Virus-Tracking Technology. Wall Street Journal (Online); New York, N.Y. Updated 20 May 2020. Available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-google-start-to-win-over-europe-to-their-virus-tracking-technology-11589716800

de Souza e Silva, A. and Sutko, D. M. (2009). Digital cityscapes: merging digital and urban playspaces. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York. pp. 1-17.



Week 10 – Sustainability, Mobility, Utopia and Sensing Cities

When the society is developed, there is a growth in mobility system. According to Elliott & Urry (2010), in today’s society, people are connected with each other not only through constant mobility and face-to-face encounters, but also via travelling messages and objects. The societies can cope with distance thanks to different processes, two of which are virtual travel and communicative travel via letters, texts or telephones. This is how the society deals with social-distancing solution due to COVID-19 pandemic. The disease forces people to cut down on face-to-face interaction as much as possible to halt the spread. “The investment of affect into virtual objects (eg Facebook, Skype, etc) comprises a part of a “containment of anxiety’, which comes to the fore in conditions of complex mobile and digital life” (Elliott & Urry, 2010, p.21). Thanks to technology, people can deal with the social-distancing campaign.

Elliott and Urry (2010) suggest that one of the future scenarios is the emergence of hypermobility, which means there will be a significant development in mobile lives thanks to new transportation and communication practices. Telepresencing will become ubiquitous as it allows interactions to occur across different areas effortlessly. This concurs with the situation in the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, people still have a high demand of meeting each other in person as meeting online never replaces real-life interaction, but the dangerous level of the disease does not allow people to easily make any face-to-face appointments. Therefore, technology will be developed to meet people’s demand. For example, tele-immersion environments enable users to work or interact with each other in a shared and simulated environments. According to Elliott and Urry (2010:150), “the shock of climate change may tip societies into these kinds of digital network and a post-car future”.



Elliott, A., & Urry, J. (2010). Mobile lives. Routledge.

Week 9 – Drones

“Drones” is the term that some experts refrain from using as it connotes the meaning of killing from distance in the war of western areas. In this case we want to regard “drones” as “a new dimension of real-time surveillance information in the contemporary city on a more general level” (Jensen, 2016, p.68). However, the ethical problems associated with drone technology do not disappear thanks to our effort to domesticate or naturalize the term in the peaceful era. In other places, Foucault (2003) suggests that this can be considered western government’s techniques and their testing in foreign areas, which is then brought back to domestic areas. There are many political and ethical issues related to drone technologies as there are some controversies around civil rights and privacy when drones are utilized in public. Obviously, using drones as surveillance can save a huge amount of money and can serve humanitarian purposes, like providing assistance in disaster zones. Nevertheless, when thinking about the situations where drones are officially used for city surveillance, there are some cautions arising. To create the flying path for drones, we need to organize and control the air traffic like what we do with airplanes. This can cause some issues, one of which is safety as drones can crash each other. Another concern is privacy. Although NoFly-Zone company has brought about the system that can make the drones not fly to restricted areas, the system can be hacked, as a drone is just a flying computer (Goodman, 2013). The case study of Mitchell Sipus (2014) has explored the three-dimension understanding of urban areas. Specifically, it is necessary to perceive cities in both two-dimension and three-dimension ways, as the volumes and voids in-between the buildings require planners to imagine the space. The appearance of drone surveillance activates a rethinking of urban areas and mobile circumstances.


Foucault, M., & Ewald, F. (2003). ” Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976 (Vol. 1). Macmillan.

Goodman, M. (2013). A view from the unfriendly skies: How criminals are using drones. TED. com.

Jensen, O. B. (2016). Drone city-power, design and aerial mobility in the age of” smart cities”. Geographica Helvetica71(2), 67.

Sipus, M. (2014). Zoning and Urban land use planning for drones, available at: http://www.thehumanitarianspace.com/2014/08/ zoning-and-urban-land-use-planning-for.html

Week 8: Digital Urban Gaming

I’ve interviewed my friend about his experience when playing Pokemon Go. He said that “When playing this game, I naturally do more exercise by walking around and be more aware of my surrounding. Sometimes, thanks to Pokemon Go, I know the places in my area that I haven’t noticed before”. Foth and Gifford (2016)

(Foth, Hudson-Smith, Gifford, 2016: P.20)

(Foth, Hudson-Smith, Gifford, 2016: P.20)

(Foth, Hudson-Smith, Gifford, 2016: P.20) believe that Preliminal games aims to promote a platform that make players more motivated to reconnect with their surroundings and activate their exploration about the parts of environment where they may not have visited. This kind of game brings about some supplementary factors via associating the city’s streets with environment built virtually, which allows players to have new experiences when discovering these spaces. Importantly, the places are not replaced by the new ones. Instead, it just augment the space so that the users can experience something new in their existing surrounding. Thanks to their interaction with the locations in reality, the player appreciate their landscape more.

My friend also shared that the time restriction in the game makes him more engaged and try hard to gain the items in the limited period of time. According to Foth and Gifford (2016), this use of constraint make the game more engaging and challenging. They conclude the benefits of this game is that it not only helps players to do exercise and connect with the social space, but also helps local enterprises to have more customers thanks to the boosted footfall.

However, my friend said that sometimes he was too focused on playing the game and therefore neglected his real social interaction. “Pokémon GO recalls issues relating to mobility, sociability, spatiality, and surveillance that are characteristic of many previous hybrid reality games and mobile location-based applications.” This concurs with the belief of Hjorth (2017, P.5), who suggests that Pokemon GO can be used to allow players to avoid engagement with other people in public places. Furthermore, there are also some dangers in terms of information about location. This can enables the robbers to know exactly the location of people to commit the crime.



Foth, M., Hudson-Smith, A. & Gifford, D., 2016. Smart cities, social capital, and citizens at play: A critique and a way forward. In Research Handbook on Digital Transformations. Cheltenham,: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 203–221.

Hjorth, L. & Richardson, I., 2017. Pokémon GO : Mobile media play, place-making, and the digital wayfarer. Mobile Media & Communication, 5(1), pp.3–14.

Week 10: Sustainability, Mobility and Utopia (Miriam Harvey)

Elliot and Urry (2010) start their book ‘Mobile Lives’ by defining a broad scope for mobility as an “ever-increasing movement of people, things, capital, information and ideas around the globe”. They state that “the argument of the book is that … the increasing mobilization of the world … affects the ways in which lives are lived, experienced and understood” (ix-xi).

Elliot and Urry look at the “complex interplay between mobile lives and mobility systems”. Mobility systems are defined as being “from the car system to air travel, from networked computers to mobile phones”. Of particular interest (to me) is how these systems change people’s lives. Elliot and Urry observe that:

“Life ‘on the move’ is the kind of life in which the capacity to be ‘elsewhere’ at a different time from others is central. … Such mobile lives demand flexibility, adaptability, reflexivity — to be ready for the unexpected, to embrace novelty”.

Ten years after Elliot and Urry published their book, the world is experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic. In early April 2020 it was reported that “half of the world’s population” were subject to “compulsory or recommended confinements, curfews and quarantines in more than 90 countries or territories” (Sandford, 2020). Elliot and Urry’s future scenarios, such as a “a worldwide reconfiguration of economy and society around ‘local sustain-ability’ (2010:142) no longer appears as extreme and improbable as it would have pre-Covid-19.

Local sustainability (Elliot and Urry, 2010: 142-147) is presented as a Utopian vision, with a “’Happy Planet Index’”, but it presumes that there is only a physical existence and no other forms of communication. The ‘digital network’ scenario (Ibid. 147-150) is an alternative but not considered as complementing ‘local sustainability’. In current times, the size (distance) of individual’s physical circle has contracted at the same time as an increase in mobility via digital communication devices and platforms. For example, MPs are now participating from home in Parliament (figure 1) or Cabinet (figure 2) sessions, and in this way they have demonstrated new combinations of physical and network mobility.

UK Gov virtual PMQ session

Figure 1: BBC image of UK Parliament’s PMQ session operating with MPs participating via screens. Source: ‘Prime Minister’s Questions goes ‘virtual’’ on 22 April 2020 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-52390054/coronavirus-prime-minister-s-questions-goes-virtual [accessed 2 May 2020]


Tweet by PM Boris Johnson on digital Cabinet

Figure 2: Tweet by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the first digital Cabinet meeting (31 March 2020). Source: https://twitter.com/borisjohnson/status/1244985949534199808 [accessed 2 May 2020]


MPs are obviously not the only people working from home, with the Office of National Statistics (ONS, 2020) reporting an increase of home working from 12% to 49% for adults in employment. If this number is reflected across the country, there will be a lot of people questioning why they need to return to time consuming, expensive and polluting commutes post-Covid-19, if they can work just as well (or better) from home. Some aspects of Elliot and Urry’s ‘local sustainability’ scenario may yet become a possible future.




Elliot, A., & Urry, J. (2010). Mobile Lives. Oxford: Routledge

ONS (2020) quoted in UK Government briefing 1 May 2020. Available from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/882862/2020-05-01_COVID-19_Press_Conference_Slides.pdf

Sandford, A. (2020). Coronavirus: Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90 countries call for confinement. Euronews. 3 April. Available at https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-in-europe-spain-s-death-toll-hits-10-000-after-record-950-new-deaths-in-24-hou [accessed 2 May 2020]