The Cooperative Work of Gaming: Orchestrating a Mobile SMS Game


This paper focuses on orchestration work in the first iteration of a mobile game called Day Of The Figurines, which explores the potential to exploit text messaging as a means of creating an engaging gaming experience. By focusing on orchestration we are especially concerned with the ‘cooperative work that makes the game work’. While the assemblage or family of orchestration practices uncovered by our ethnographic study are specific to the game – including the ways in which behind the scenes staff make sense of messages, craft appropriate responses, and manage and track the production of gameplay narratives as the game unfolds – orchestration work is of general significance to our understanding of new gaming experiences. The focus on orchestration work reveals that behind the scenes staff are co-producers of the game and that the playing of games is, therefore, inseparably intertwined with their orchestration. Furthermore, orchestration work is ‘ordinary’ work that relies upon the taken for granted skills and competences of behind the scenes staff; ‘operators’ and ‘authors’ in this case. While we remain focused on the specifics of this game, explication of the ordinary work of orchestration highlights challenges and opportunities for the continued development of gaming experiences more generally. Indeed, understanding the specificities of orchestration work might be said to be a key ingredient of future development.

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Day Of The Figurines was designed by Blast Theory ( and supported by the EU FP6 Integrated Project on Pervasive Gaming iPerg ( Ethnographic study of Day Of The Figurines was supported by the EPSRC Equator Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration ( and the ESRC e-Social Science Research Node DReSS ( digitalrecord).

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Correspondence to Andy Crabtree.

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Crabtree, A., Benford, S., Capra, M. et al. The Cooperative Work of Gaming: Orchestrating a Mobile SMS Game. Comput Supported Coop Work 16, 167–198 (2007).

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  • cooperative work
  • ethnography
  • mobile games
  • orchestration
  • SMS text messages