Playing with performance/performing play
: creating hybrid experiences at the fringes of video games and performance

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is an exploration of the intersections between performance and video games. Using a practice as research methodology, it aims to address the question of how game design and contemporary performance practice can both inform and contribute to the development of new and hybrid experiences and explores through making and subsequent reflection two of these potential forms.

The practice drew from the theoretical landscape, current aesthetic practices, as well as the design processes of mixed-reality performance, immersive theatres, site-specific performance, augmented reality, pervasive games, promenade performance and walking simulators. The design methods or dramaturgies employed when designing hybrid narrative, sensory and semiotic experiences for the moving body, informed the design, development and critical reflection on two large scale, interdisciplinary and mixed reality artistic projects: Inchcolm Project (2016) and Generation ZX(X) (2017-2018). The thesis thus maps this process of designing for the moving, sensing, meaning-making body in and across virtual and physical environments, while exploring different types of design: site-specific and site-responsive design, game responsive design, adaptation, environmental storytelling, and transmedia storytelling.

Both projects explored various narrative, spatial and temporal configurations with the aim of facilitating an experience continuum for the audience/player: she journeys through both physical and virtual environments in search of meaning. This is a design technique that I have called storywalking which I put forward as an innovative way of making in an area which is becoming increasingly important for contemporary artists: mixed-reality. Storywalking is a design process that can be applied to work that is structurally hybrid (with mixed-media and mixed-reality components) and inter-disciplinary in its design (video game design and site-specific performance practice). It facilitates a search for meaning (assembling narrative ‘puzzle’ pieces) performed by the walking body of the audience/players as they journey through complex, sensory and story-rich environments, both physical and digital. These environments are layered (the aesthetic of the palimpsest) and incomplete (the aesthetic of the ruin) thus inviting the audience/player to complete the work by adopting different modes of engagement in the process of making-meaning: reading, writing, walking, playing, sensing and interpreting. Exploration becomes a dramaturgical device of assemblage which operates at two levels: of production, in the process of designing for the moving body and all its senses, and of reception in the process of performing the work.

The written reflection emphasises the opportunities and challenges of designing for a moving body across media and draws attention to the possibilities that the interdisciplinary research in the fields of performance and game design opens for makers in both fields. Furthermore, in both projects I engaged with charged sites and living memory furthering the applicability of the research findings to makers or organisers of community and heritage events, curators and anthropologists.

The critical reflection on the projects and the design processes which underpin them will contribute to the understanding of these types of hybrid practices and argue that interdisciplinary approaches to design can enrich the fields of game design and contemporary performance by opening new areas for practice and by proposing new strategies, techniques, skills and toolkits to practitioners in both fields. The written reflection is accompanied by a practice research portfolio which captures the traces of outcomes and processes inherent in the making of the work. This companion website is part of this thesis and should be consulted ahead and throughout the reading:
Date of Award18 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SponsorsScottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities & Scottish Funding Council
SupervisorDayna Galloway (Supervisor), Laura Bissell (Supervisor) & Alistair MacDonald (Supervisor)


  • Performance
  • Play
  • Video games
  • Storywalking

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