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Question Blocks: How to make two worlds collide?

Part of: The Semiotics of Video Games exhibition.

The semiotics of Video Games

Text by Gabriele Ferri, PhD student in Semiotics at the University of Bologna, Italy

This is the introduction of an annex discussion to the Semiotics of Video Games exhibition. It was led by Gabriele Ferri on Facebook in September 2010. Please visit the discussion page to see the reactions, and do not hesitate to post yours.

Every video game in the Super Mario franchise features “question blocks” – special elements releasing power-ups when hit. In 2006, artist/activist Posterchild published the instructions to build their real-life counterparts, asking readers to use them to decorate their surroundings. While it was a successful project commenting on public spaces (spaces often used for advertising, and not for playing or socializing), a few abandoned cardboard blocks also caused a bomb scare.

Locative and alternate-reality games have already cast some doubts over the idea of the Magic Circle, introduced by Johan Huizinga to separate playful and serious activities. One trend in interaction design is to make game-worlds collide with the real world. Jane McGonigal argued for the idea of using games to highlight and tackle serious real-world issues (

If the Magic Circle is dissolved, will our lives become more playful or will the flow go the other way, bringing chores to game worlds? Which designs can create better game worlds and a better real world?

Questions blocks, Posterchild, 2006

Next: Philosophy of Video Games – Introduction and References

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