2.1 Intergenerational Gaming
Intergenerational gaming represents a promising but controversial area of application of video games to promote social interactions between different age cohorts. On the one hand, video games could represent “an interactive environment where collaboration and cooperation occur” [7, p. 48] among different generations of users, thus contributing to lessening age segregation and consequently ageism . More specifically, playing video games can facilitate intergenerational relationships and offers a playful context of interaction through which a new equilibrium can be negotiated in terms of social roles, thus contributing to mutual respect between young people and the elderly . On the other hand, a stereotypical representation of older people [10, 11] seems to affect the public debate on video games and the elderly, as underlined by De Schutter and Abeele  in their “gerontoludic manifesto”. In this context, video games are framed as useful tools to improve older people’s skills, or they are considered only in terms of features aimed at reducing age-related limitations, disregarding the playfulness associated with gaming and implicitly depicting the elderly as a monolithic social group .
To avoid a deterministic approach, it is necessary to carefully evaluate advantages and disadvantages, refusing to consider video games as the “panacea” for intergenerational relationships but avoiding disregard of their potentiality. As underlined by Chua et al., “perceptual changes between different groups are not assured by mere contact or interactions but depend on a series of factors” [9, p. 2304], even if “video games can be an effective facilitator to enhance intergenerational perceptions when members from different age groups are paired to play video games together as a novel leisure activity, as compared to daily routine activities used to facilitate intergenerational bonding” [9, p. 2308].
Several studies have addressed the topic on a participatory-design level, allowing both older and young people to take an active role in designing video games that can facilitate mutually satisfying interactions. As a result of this approach, a series of recommendations for intergenerational gaming design are now available . Besides the need to create an ad hoc intergenerational video game, such recommendations offer a manifold theoretical framework to better refine our project. As summarized by Costa and Veloso  in a recent literature review, intergenerational video games have to promote peer-to-peer mentoring, taking advantage of specific age-related skills and avoiding unidirectional knowledge transfer; they also have to offer communal activities, trying to balance skills and challenges, thus fostering individual well-being. In this respect, intergenerational video games can represent a shared context hosting social interaction, prioritizing physical mixed-reality (i.e., the integration of physical objects and digital communication tools)  to properly address older people’s potential concerns with digital interfaces. In line with these recommendations, Rice et al., as a result of intergenerational game design workshops, outline that intergenerational games have to build on users’ intrinsic qualities, sustain mutual engagement, balance challenges to promote long-term commitment, and exploit public spaces for community engagement . Siyahhan et al. , observing pairs of players composed of parents and children playing Quest Atlantis (a multiuser 3D educational video game), focus on specific characteristics of the dyads (i.e., being a novice vs. an expert). Key points in fostering intergenerational exchange are the convergence of intentions among players and a fruitful negotiation of norms and roles that can potentially reveal opportunities to question the traditional roles of adults and children.
If these recommendations apply to a wide variety of intergenerational games and video games, a more specific interest in game experiences that mix traditional games and video games (augmented games) or physical and digital environments (as in the case of augmented reality games) is growing among scholars. Al Mahmud et al.  experimented with an augmented table-top game for intergenerational gaming, observing that technology played a special role in enhancing young people’s gameplay experience. As a result of their experiment, the authors outline that children involved in the project liked their own customized (in terms of references to a fantasy universe) version of the game more than the adults’ version, while the adults were quite unconcerned about specific game versions. To promote gratifying social interaction among participants, special attention has to be paid to games’ rules, exploiting uncertainty as a means of maintaining interest in the game but also trying to balance immersion with social interactions (as young users tend to focus more on the game than on their partners) . The analysis of Khoo et al.  of the process leading to the prototype of Age Invaders (a so-called intergenerational social and physical game) offers useful insights about mixing physical and digital games for intergenerational interactions. In this respect, as older people can potentially be intimidated by traditional interfaces, such a game exploits the physical space as an interface (users move on an LED-enriched roof that recognizes their movements through RFID technologies), thus stimulating older people’s motivation to play while engaging young users through the well-known metaphor of a traditional video game like Space Invaders. Allowing users to naturally interact in the same physical environment, mixed-reality games seem to offer a naturalistic setting for intergenerational interactions, promoting face-to-face conversation and body-language expressions during the game, thus acting as a stage that hosts users’ performances . Despite these promising examples, researchers have devoted scarce attention to alternate reality games (ARGs) in the context of intergenerational gaming . To contribute to the debate, Hausknecht et al.  illustrate some potentiality of ARGs and point out some design considerations. ARGs can act as intergenerational learning tools promoting collaboration among adults and young people and stimulating counterfactual thinking (enacted by users to solve quizzes and puzzles embedded into the ARG’s narrative). In this respect, ARGs can offer possible gaming situations where different age cohorts have to exchange their own points of view and negotiate roles and positions of power . Moreover, as discussed by Costa and Veloso , relying on Bonsignore and colleagues’ analysis of ARGs in the context of 21st-century literacy skills , ARGs can promote specific core literacies that can be beneficial for both adults and children. To actualize these potentialities, game designers must find a balance between the canonical trajectory of the game’s narrative (i.e., the narrative path imagined by the game creator) and the participant trajectory, creating an equilibrium in the openness of the game. Specific characteristics of users need to be capitalized on, and ARGs can potentially exploit users’ prior knowledge and their former experiences as gamers, thus promoting a satisfying division of labor in the case of young and older people playing together .
Despite these optimistic considerations about ARGs’ potentialities to promote and facilitate intergenerational interactions and collaborative learning among different age cohorts, Hausknecht et al.  and Costa and Veloso  express cautious concerns. More specifically, as outlined by Costa and Veloso, playing ARGs can result in “(a) addictive experiences; (b) identity crises; and (c) disparities in (grand) child–(grand) parents’ relationships of authority” [18, p. 5]. In more general terms, as underlined by Iversen in her application of the Foucauldian concept of discourse to digital game research and older adults, the growing interest in older people and video games is characterized by a utilitarian approach that tends to depict old age as a problem to solve, implicitly considering older people unproductive subjects who can be re-assimilated in the system as consumers through video games: “Digital games in this regard are both offered as training equipment for body and mind and more implicit markers of youthfulness” [10, p. 17].
2.2 Mobile, Location-Based, and Augmented Reality Gaming in the Urban Playground
In recent years, scholars have devoted growing attention to a particular set of digital games that are designed to be played on mobile devices, exploiting urban environments as a playground and incorporating, at various levels, augmented reality features as well as relational practices between players. While “pervasive gaming” has been proposed as a unified label to address such a broad set of games [20, 21], several partially overlapping definitions have been used to describe the different features, as well as the different gaming practices, related to such games, including mobile games, location-based games, augmented reality games, and so on.
One of the first attempts to historically and theoretically contextualize digital gaming practices in urban spaces was proposed by De Souza e Silva and Hjort , who focus on the term “mobile gaming,” underlining how “location awareness and global positioning system (GPS) devices embedded in mobiles turn them into interfaces to navigate physical spaces” [22, p. 603]. Even before mobile devices spread, the social construction of urban spaces could be considered “inherently playful” [22, p. 603], as several playful usage forms of such spaces can be documented historically (the authors include, as relevant examples, Baudelaire’s flâneur, the situationist idea of dérive, and the subculture of parkour).
A broader framework for contextualizing similar processes can be identified in literature analyzing locative media, as well as in the concept of “geomedia” . The term “locative media” was “first used by Karlis Kalnins in 2003 in Latvia to set apart ‘the corporation use of location-based services from artistic propose’ (…) [and] is defined as a ‘mobile media with geographical positioning and context sensitivity’” [24, p. 2]. Geomedia, in contrast, can be defined as platforms that “merge existing electronic media+the Internet+location-based technologies (or locative media)+AR (augmented reality) technologies in a new mode of digital composite imaging, data association and socially maintained data exchange and communication” [23, p. 14].
The first generation of experimental location-based mobile games was developed in the late nineties and aimed at transforming urban spaces into playful places . Early pervasive games were often oriented toward educational applications, as well as toward reshaping previous digital games. Early literature on the topic, in contrast, focused on chances to bridge the physical and digital domains , consistent with more general trends in Internet research, underlining how networked individuals seamlessly operate between the physical and digital worlds [26, 27].
Scholars have proposed several attempts at the categorization of pervasive games. For instance, De Souza e Silva and Hjort distinguish between urban games (UGs), “games that use the city space as the game board. UGs are often multiplayer games played out in the streets of the city” [22, p. 612]; location-based mobile games (LBMGs), “games played with cell phones equipped with location awareness (…). Like UGs, LBMGs use the city space as the game environment. However, they additionally allow the linking of information to places, and players to each other via location awareness” [22, p. 614]; and hybrid reality games (HRGs), which “have an online component, represented as a 3D virtual world, so they take place simultaneously in physical and digital spaces. It is the shared game experience among multiple users that creates the hybrid reality” [22, p. 618].
When analyzing Ingress (a game that can be considered a predecessor of Pokémon Go), Hulsey and Reeves describe it as combining different game design genres: it is “a multiplayer location-based mobile game (LBMG) […] that also incorporates augmented and alternate reality” [28, p. 390], underlining the centrality of hybrid spaces  in its game design and practices. Similarly, Chess  refers to Ingress as a game combining geomedia  and AR, negotiating “complex relationships between community and space on both global and regional levels” [30, p. 1105]. From such a perspective, the player is bound to proximity (several actions can be performed only when one is next to a physical place), to the digital layer overlapping the physical world (the gaming arena displayed on mobile devices), and to a broader social and gaming context, at a regional or even at a global level (the evolving Ingress storyline, as well as the overall scores, are related to the global performances of the two opposing factions operating in the game). In such a context, the AR layer both allows and “forces” the player to see the world differently, pushing him to notice regional points of interest [30, p. 1107]. According to Chess, furthermore, Ingress should also be considered through the lens of the ARG model , which is an immersive form of gaming “that combines narrative, collaborative storytelling, mixed media, and puzzle solving” [7, p. 52].
Addressing the debate surrounding pervasive game definition, Kasapakis highlights several game genres that can be defined as “contiguous” with pervasive games, underlining that most authors propose genre-focused categorizations. Among the most commonly proposed genres are AR games; mixed-reality games; LBMGs; trans-reality games; and cross-media games [21, p. 24]. Kasapakis’ proposes a definition for pervasive games that elaborates on Huizinga’s  concept of “magic circle,” which refers to the (conventionally agreed upon) boundaries between the game and ordinary life. More specifically, in Kasapakis’ definition, “pervasive games expand the spatial, temporal or social borders of the magic circle while also utilizing pervasive technologies” (p. 23). Other authors [22, 25, 32] rely on such a concept, exploring the ways in which such boundaries are blurred in pervasive gaming. Majorek and du Vall, for instance, underline that,
Today, games intended for mobile phones using AR technology have given a completely new meaning to the magic circle. […] when dealing with applications using AR technology, it is important to note that they lead to a certain connection between the virtual world and the real world, and these two dimensions become nearly identical [32, p. 674].
While several scholars struggle in attempting to categorize pervasive games, mainly distinguishing between different genres (or features), others, such as Hjorth and Richardson , propose a comprehensive framework for analyzing the convergence between social, locative, and mobile media gaming, underlining that such a distinction is a heuristic strategy [25, p. 2] rather than an intrinsic characteristic of game design and gaming practices. On the contrary, “in contemporary game practices, we would more commonly experience a variable intersection of these features [25, p. 2]. The authors also underline how
Mobile networked technologies not only transform how we understand place in everyday life, they also remind us that place is more than just physical geographic location; it is constructed by an ongoing accumulation of stories, memories, and social practices (…) This is particularly the case within the realm of urban mobile gaming, which seeks to challenge everyday conventions and routines that shape the cityscape [25, p. 6].
Furthermore, while mobile gaming has traditionally been associated with “casual gaming” practices, the traditional distinction between “casual” and “hardcore” gamers needs to be overcome. Following Consalvo, the pervasiveness and mainstreaming of mobile gaming practices in everyday life means that mobile phone gamers “defy categorization” [33, p. 193], underlining the need to overcome the conventional distinction between casual and hardcore gamers to build a more nuanced picture that, as may be the case for Ingress and Pokémon Go, supports both gaming attitudes, leaving to each player room for calibrating his/her engagement with the game according to various situational, attitudinal, and contextual considerations.
While the first generation of LBMGs was mainly oriented toward serious applications, with a main focus on educational outcomes, the following generations dedicated more emphasis to playful attitudes and to the social side of gaming . This does not mean that such attention toward serious outcomes has been dismissed, as shown by several applications in the fields both of education and of “exergames” .
Literature on pervasive gaming, as well as the few articles analyzing Ingress, or Pokémon Go , highlight several themes that are relevant to our research, also considering their broader social implications.
The first area is related to the relation between players and the urban space. In this regard, the literature explores the ways in which players negotiate their presence between different realms and their understanding of the domains they are operating in: on the one hand, the physical and the digital realms and, on the other hand, the local, regional, and global levels that might be implied in pervasive gaming . Furthermore, relying on the concept of “ambient play” helps “to reconcile the cyclic debates around intimacy and co-presence” in digital media scholarship [25, p. 62], reshaping the very concept of presence [22, p. 618]. Moreover, an analysis of data from mobile networks in Santiago, Chile highlighted the effects of Pokémon Go on the pulse of the city, resulting in more people being outside at certain times, and, in more general terms, in people slightly adapting their daily routines to play . Both the reshaping of presence and the negotiation of space and place, on the one side, and the modification of daily routines and itineraries through the city are relevant aspects to be explored through the lens of intergenerational practices.
Moreover, the game offers the chance to coordinate, at various levels, with other players to achieve relevant goals with teammates (from conquering a single gym to “controlling” a neighborhood) or with general players (i.e., taking profit from lure modules) or even just to experience a more enjoyable and playful gaming practice . This implies, on the one hand, that young children are commonly in need of adult supervision when interacting with strangers through the game and, on the other hand, that this relational dimension adds further layers to the role-taking and negotiating processes taking place around gaming practices.
Finally, even the growing consumption of mobile data (see ) might translate into a need for adult assistance and is likely to be an arena for intergenerational negotiations.