Advanced Games Research Group

Here you can find an overview of all of the different research projects currently underway in the University's Advanced Games Research Group. Some projects are well established while others are new projects being driven by our PhD students.

A key feature of the research group is research-informed practice. The majority of our projects have a significant developmental aspect, with research directly feeding into the design, development, and release of a range of games, both commercial and free.

You can find links to all of the project publications below as well as links to available games developed as part of the projects.

Cognition and Disruption in Gameplay (CoDiGa)

Project Status: Active
Project Lead: Dr. Peter Howell (

This project is exploring the potential of disrupting and subverting a player's expectations and pre-existing knowledge of games and gameplay, in order to provide a deeper, more cognitively engaging play experience. The project has been developed from a foundation of cognitive psychology coupled with existing models of gameplay, leading to the creation of a new framework of 'Ludic Knowledge' and a new model of 'Ludic Action'.

The project is both theoretical and practical, with research directly informing development of playable products.

Publications from this project:

- Howell, P. & Stevens, B. (2019). Epistemological Issues in Understanding Games Design, Play-experience, and Reportage. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2019 Conference. Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto.

- Howell, P. (2016). A Theoretical Framework of Ludic Knowledge: A Case Study in Disruption and Cognitive Engagement. In Proceedings of POCG 2016 Conference. University of Malta, Malta.

- Howell, P. (2015). Disruptive game design: a commercial design and development methodology for supporting player cognitive engagement in digital games. PhD thesis, University of Portsmouth.

- Howell, P., Stevens, B. & Eyles, M. (2014). Disrupting the Player's Schematised Knowledge of Game Components. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2014 Conference. Utah, United States.

- Howell, P. (2014). Postmortem: The Chinese Room's Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Feature Article published on Gamasutra.

- Howell, P. (2011). Schematically Disruptive Game Design. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference: Think Design Play. Utrecht, Netherlands.

Talks given on this project:

- Howell, P. (2017). The Game's the Thing: Approaching Practice-based Research in Game Design. Presented at the Practice Research in Creative and Cultural Industries Conference, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK.

Games developed from this project:

- Unreal Tournament 2004 Single-player Map - OSM-Geothermal
- Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
- Shush!!!

Interpretive Play

Project Status: Active

Project Lead: Mr. Matthew Higgins (

This project is exploring the role of comprehension and interpretation in digital games, particularly in ‘walking simulators’, where comprehension and interpretation are the key interaction – a form of ‘introspective play’. Through the application of games theory this project endeavours to gain further understanding of walking simulators and how ‘introspective play’ can be facilitated through game design.

Publications from this project:

- Higgins, M. & Howell, P. (2020). Interpretive Play and the Player Psychology of Optimal Arousal Regulation. In Bosser AG., Millard D.E., Hargood C. (eds) Interactive Storytelling. ICIDS 2020. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 12497. Springer, Cham

- Higgins, M. (2019). Critical Path Design for Story-focused Digital Games. Paper presented at the Writing for Screens Symposium. University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth.

Games developed from this project:

White Lake

Game Development as Playful Practice

Project Status: Active
Project Lead: Dr. Neil Dansey (

Typically game developers are focused on creating the best end-product possible while avoiding unnecessary obstacles and wasted effort. However, some developers enjoy placing extreme obstacles in the way, just to see if they can be overcome. Examples of this are extreme Game Jams and retro "demakes" of AAA games. This practice of overcoming unnecessary adversity can be seen as a form of play, and can be observed in other disciplines, for example creative writing. This research project is exploring the different ways in which the process of game development can itself be "playful", with a view to examining how this compares to other media, and how game development might offer a unique perspective on what appears to be a long-practised and masochistic pastime.

Publications from this project:

No publications yet!

Talks given on this project:

- Dansey, N & Howell, P. (2017). Playful Developers: A Study of Artificial Constraints and Developer Experiences. Presented at the DiGRA UK Conference 2017, MediaCityUK & The University of Salford, Manchester, UK.

Games developed from this project:

No games yet!

Pervasive Games and Ambiguity

Project Status: Concluded - 2014
Project Lead: Dr. Neil Dansey (

This project is centred around pervasive games - these are games that are designed to blur the boundaries between playing and not-playing, for example by using real-world settings, extended play sessions and actors mixed in with the general public. One aim of pervasive games is to create an engaging or "spooky" experience that is sometimes difficult to discern from real life, and the phenomenon of apophenia (where players begin to "see" a game where none exists) was the subject of the project's first paper, leading into a general interest in ambiguity and creative interpretation in games. Since creativity and ambiguity are closely linked from a cognitive psychology perspective, the project also covers games for creativity, in particular games that relied on ambiguity as a facilitator of creativity and introspective play.

Publications from this project:

- Dansey, N. (2014). Emergently-Persuasive Games: How Players of SF0 Persuade Themselves. In D. Ruggiero (ed.), Cases on Societal Effects of Persuasive Games. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

- Dansey, N., Stevens, B. & Eglin, R. (2009). Contextually-ambiguous Pervasive Games: An Exploratory Study. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2009 Conference. London, UK.

- Eglin, R., Eyles, M. & Dansey, N. (2008). A Systemic Domain Model for Ambient Pervasive Persuasive Games. In Proceedings of CHI 2008 Conference. Florence, Italy.

- Dansey, N. (2008). Facilitating Apophenia to Augment the Experience of Pervasive LARPs. Presented at the Breaking the Magic Circle Seminar. Tampere, Finland.

Games developed from this project:

No games yet!

Ambient Gameplay

Project Status: Concluded - 2014 
Project Lead: Dr. Mark Eyles (

Inspired by Brian Eno's ambient music, which is persistent and supports different levels of engagement, this research explores ambient gameplay in computer, video and pervasive games. Through the creation of original games containing ambient gameplay and looking for ambient gameplay in existing commercial games, this research focuses on gameplay that supports a range of depths of player engagement. This research is not concerned with ambient intelligent environments or other technologies that might support ambience, but focusses on gameplay mechanisms.

The definition of ambient music is used as a starting point for developing a tentative set of properties that enable ambient gameplay. A game design research methodology is initially used. Two very different research games, Ambient Quest (using pedometers) and Pirate Moods (using RFID, radio-frequency identification, technology) are analysed. The resulting qualitative ambient gameplay schema contains themes of persistence, discovery, engagement, invention, ambiguity and complexity. In order to confirm the wider applicability of this result a case study of an existing commercial game, Civilization IV, is undertaken. Ambient gameplay properties of engagement, complexity, abstraction, persistence and modelessness identified in Civilization IV, and other commercial games, are combined with the ambient gameplay schema to develop a definition of ambient gameplay. This definition is the basis for a set of investigative lenses (lenses of persistence, attention, locative simultaneity, modelessness, automation and abstraction) for identifying ambient gameplay.

This research creates a deeper understanding of computer games and hence gives game designers new ways of developing richer gameplay and gives games researchers new ways of viewing and investigating games.

Publications from this project:

- Eyles, M. (2013). An Investigation of Ambient Gameplay. PhD thesis, University of Portsmouth.

- Eyles, M. & Pinchbeck, D.(2011). Playful Ambience. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference. Utrecht, Netherlands.

- Eyles, M. & Eglin R. (2009). Using an RFID Game to Phenomenologically Test a Theoretical Systemic Model for Describing Ambient Games. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2009 Conference. Brunel University, United Kingdom.

- Eyles, M., Eglin R. & Dansey, N. (2008). A Systemic Domain Model for Ambient Pervasive Persuasive Games. In Proceedings of CHI2008 Workshop: Surrounded by Ambient Persuasion. Florence, Italy.

- Eyles, M. & Eglin R. (2007). Entering an Age of Playfulness where Persistent, Pervasive Ambient Games Create Moods and Modify Behaviour. In Proceedings of Cybergames 2007 Conference. Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom.

- Eyles, M. & Eglin, R. (2007). Ambient Role Playing Games: Towards a Grammar of Endlessness. In Proceedings of the Women in Games Conference 2007. University of Newport, United Kingdom.

Games developed from this project:

- City Block Cats

- Stina & The Wolf RPG Experimental Prototype

- Ambient Quest 2.2

- Ambient Quest 1.0

- Ambient Quest Pirate Moods