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Re-enchanting the city: Hybrid space, affect and playful performance in geocaching, a location-based mobile game

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This article presents an empirical analysis of the location-based mobile game (LBMG) geocaching – a worldwide scavenger hunt enabled by Web 2.0 and global positioning system (GPS) technology. The analysis is informed by a non-representational approach through which the urban space where the game is played and the use and performance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) are grasped as mutually constitutive processes. This approach sheds new light on the phenomenon of geocaching as it prioritizes the embodied performances through which the player relates the hybrid game space with the contingency and affective potential of urban space. This relation is partly constituted through the notion of a ‘player gaze’, through which the player appropriates his/her surroundings. The analysis also demonstrates how the game expands the edges of the ‘magic circle’ of play, thereby merging the ‘serious’ spaces of everyday life with the playfulness related to the game. Previous studies on geocaching have mainly focused on the sharing of places and ‘local knowledge’ within the game, and thus paying little, if any, attention to the role of the player and the ways in which he/she enhances the playability of the game through playful improvisations invoked by affective encounters with non-players. The article suggests that these embodied performances intertwine with the urban fabric and technological affordances, thereby sparking a potential ‘re-enchantment’ of the urban space. The analysis draws on a qualitative fieldwork conducted from 2011 to 2012 amongst practitioners of geocaching in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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Keywords: ICTs; affect; cities; ethnography; non-representational theory; performance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Southern Denmark

Publication date: 01 June 2014

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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