2K-Reality Context

PhD Design Research Project
2K-Reality: A Sports Entertainment Augmentation for Pickup Basketball Play Spaces

2K-Reality artefact responds to the research questions posed by leading mental health and media researcher Cheryl Olson: “Is there any evidence that videogames can support real-world sports?” (Olson, 2015, p.282), and “how might we use commercially available sports videogames to influence the variables necessary to encourage physical activity?” (Olson, 2015, p.287). Therefore, the overarching question my practice-based PhD design research project sought to address is: How can I design a videogame-based sports entertainment augmentation for pickup basketball play spaces that is compliant with its spatial, temporal and social practices and the standards governing the sport?

2K-Reality Context
Meta & Peripheral Dark Matter Synthesis

“The dark matter of strategic designers is organisational culture, policy environments, market mechanisms, legislation, finance models and other incentives, governance structures, tradition and habits, local culture and national identity, the habitats, situations and events that decisions are produced within.” (Hill, 2012, p.45)

The following Meta synthesis identifies outlying pickup basketball dark matter; Public Health, Urbanisation, Urban Play Spaces, Deliberate Play, and Basketball Community. The Peripheral synthesis identifies dark matter specific to my design-driven vision; NBA Entertainment, Sports Entertainment Augmentations, the Sounds of Sport, Mimicry and Make Believe, and Sports Entrepreneurship.

Meta Dark Matter.png

Public Health

Examining macro issues surrounding contemporary grassroots sports participation reveals global concerns that technology is linked to reduced physical activity and increased sedentary leisure activities, which has a significant social and economic cost that is intergenerational and unsustainable (Ng & Popkin, 2012; MacCallum, Howson & Gopu, 2012). In conjunction with the decline of physical activity, the economic and social transformations associated with urbanisation have contributed to complex urban problems that contribute to a compromise of physical, emotional and financial well-being (Wilcox & Andrews, 2003).

In seeking to augment and enhance the primary motivation for grassroots sports participation, fun and joy (Seippel, 2006), 2K-Reality is consistent with the recommendations in reports such as Designed to Move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda. A report funded by Nike, and supported by over 50 independent health organisations, which outlines a ‘framework for action’ to encourage increased physical activity. Specifically, the recommendations to leverage digital platforms and embrace technology to create digital innovations for play spaces that children find fun and can compete with popular sedentary activities (MacCallum, Howson & Gopu, 2012; Kahn & Norman, 2012; The Aspen Institute, 2015; World Health Organization, 2017; Sport Australia, 2018). Moreover, 2K-Reality aims to encourage increased physical activity amongst teens and adults and encourage intergenerational play, a subject that receives scant attention in the Designed to Move report (Piggin, 2015).


With the worldwide urbanisation trend expected raise the worlds urban population ratio from 54% in 2014 to over 66% in the year 2050 (United Nations, 2014), the provision of local sports facilities for grassroots sport is an important strategy for addressing spatial and social inequality arising from urbanisation. A policy strategy endorsed by the Council of Europe in 1992 when it adopted the European Urban Charter that declared “the right of all urban dwellers to take part in sporting and recreational activities, to develop their expertise in sport up to their individual potential, and to be provided safe, affordable, and local sport facilities” (Wilcox & Andrews, 2012, p.7). Since that declaration, the recognised importance of sports participation for health and wellbeing, and the social value of local sports facilities has increased (Edwards & Tsouros 2008; Designed to Move, 2015; World Health Organization, 2017; KPMG, 2018).

“Changing PA [physical activity] participation levels is not only a PH [public health] issue; participation levels and trends are also important to the field of sport management (SM)” (Eime et al., 2015, p.208). In proposing a grassroots urban play space innovation that incorporates contemporary experiential marketing techniques, 2K-Reality seeks to reinterpret the value of grassroots urban sports play spaces; to change their residual or unprofitable status (Valle & Kompier, 2013) into everyday spaces with commercial value. Additionally, 2K-Reality aims to contribute to sports management policies that can increase physical activity among the majority, for whom competition and success in elite sports is irrelevant (Kural, 2010), thereby assisting to address the systematic and entrenched inequity of “the 80-20 rule: grassroots versus elite sport investment” (Westerbeek, 2012).

Urban Play Spaces

Designing an urban play space augmentation that provides urban dwellers with a way “to make their everyday urban experiences more pleasurable" (Brynskov et al., 2014, p. 4) situates the 2K-Reality research project within the multidisciplinary field of Urban Interaction Design (Urban IxD); a research field that combines three primary elements; people, technology and urban space (Helgason et al. 2013). By blending virtual and real and pickup basketball play spaces, 2K-Reality responds to calls for research to consider how convergent technologies are blurring videogames with sports (Crawford & Gosling, 2009); and supports research arguing for vigorous physical exercise in real play spaces to be supported by technology that inspires participation and creativity and appreciation from spectators (Kajastila & Hämäläinen, 2015). 2K-Reality also applies Urban IxD to a form of non-organised sport; a flexible and unscheduled category of sports and physical activity that, in Australia, has higher and increasing participation rates than organised sports (Hajkowicz, Cook, Wilhelmseder & Boughen, 2013).

Deliberate Play

By focussing on fun and joy, the design of 2K-Reality differentiates itself from the majority of recent technology augmentations offered to pickup basketball players. The design of augmented products, such as smart basketballs and shoes, have “been deployed at the low value end of the product spectrum, putting the lipstick on the pig” (Hill, 2012, p.19). Opportunistic product designs have emerged from sensor technology improvements and self-quantification trends; not a genuine engagement with pickup basketball dark matter. These types of products, some already withdrawn from the market, align with basketball ‘deliberate practice’; highly structured activities, such as shooting drills, that explicitly aim to improve performance (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993). But pickup basketball, the best version of ‘the phenomenal game’, exemplifies what Coté defines as ‘deliberate play’ (Coté, 1999); activities that emphasise the significance of fun, immediate gratification and pretending in recreational sport (Côté, Baker & Abernethy, 2003; Côté, Baker & Abernethy, 2007).

Basketball Community

Urban pickup basketball players and spectators are part of the NBA’s hegemonic global basketball community; an interpretive community of practice (Fish, 1980) created by the broadcast images of NBA games (Mc Laughlin, 2008) and accentuated by NBA sports videogames; which can be considered as part of the sport and its fan culture (Kayali, 2013). Just as NBA 2K videogames “deliberately try to blur the line between videogames and sports broadcasts” (Kayali, 2013, p.214), and attempt “to blur the lines between the ballpark and the virtual stadium” (Leonard, 2006, p.427); some NBA videogames, like NBA Street (NuFX, 2001) and NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 (Saber Interactive, 2018), appropriate, mimic and blur the social, cultural and spatial practices of pickup basketball. By appropriating and repurposing iconic NBA 2K12 videogame sounds to augment real pickup basketball play spaces, 2K-Reality utilises the interpretive community’s experience and understanding of real and virtual pickup basketball play spaces, to invert and subvert the appropriation of pickup basketball by NBA videogames.

Peripheral Dark Matter.png

NBA Entertainment

The NBA is a major global entertainment and consumer goods company with a “compendium of branded entertainment-oriented personas, products, and services” (Andrews, 2006, p.96). NBA Commissioner from 1984 to 2014, David Stern, confidently equated the NBA with the Disney Corporation in 1991, saying that:

“They have theme parks . . . and we have theme parks. Only we call them arenas. They have characters: Mickey Mouse, Goofy. Our characters are named Magic and Michael [Jordan]. Disney sells apparel; we sell apparel. They make home videos; we make home videos.” (Swift, 2001, para. 46)

As Andrews highlights, the NBA spectacle in Debord’s terms, ‘‘covers the entire globe, basking in the perpetual warmth of its own glory’’ (Andrews, 2006; Debord, 1994/1967, p. 15). In addition to NBA mass-mediated representations, NBA Properties license the NBA brand extensively to licensors that design products for amusement and enjoyment in public and private spaces; from location-based amusements to toys and action figures. However, NBA branded entertainment is almost completely absent in grassroots basketball play spaces, where high levels of what sports marketers refer to as ‘sports involvement’ takes place (Shank & Beasley, 1998; Shank & Lyberger, 2015). By introducing iconic NBA sounds into pickup basketball play spaces, 2K-Reality demonstrates how NBA entertainment can create branded spaces using sonic branding; a new form of branding touchpoint with the potential to impact the perception and evaluation of the NBA brand (Jackson, 2003; Kastner, 2013) among high-involvement basketball participants, likely to consume other forms of NBA products and services (Shank & Lyberger, 2015).

Sports Entertainment Augmentations

In A General-Purpose Taxonomy of Computer-Augmented Sports Systems (Reilly, Barron, Cahill, Moran & Haahr, 2009), form and function was used to identify and analyse four root applications in the domain of sports augmentation; “sports entertainment, training, refereeing and ensuring the safety of the participants” (Reilly et al., 2009, p.24). Because the taxonomy identifies sports entertainment as one of the “sparsely populated regions of the domain” it is, therefore, one of the “promising areas for future research” (Reilly et al., 2009, p.19). Reilly et al. also note that sports entertainment augmentations typically present data recorded by sensors to improve the experience of interested spectators (2009), and claim that “sensors are crucial to any application intended to augment a sporting activity” (Reilly et al., 2009, p.30). According to the taxonomy, the form and function of the 2K-Reality sports entertainment augmentation is not typical, and the design dispels the claim that sensors are crucial for augmenting sports entertainment.

Sounds of Sport

Sports entertainment augmentations have a long tradition of using the three categories of sound, speech, sound effects and music, to enhance spectator experiences. Stadiums (Uhrich & Benkenstein, 2010), radio (Stewart, 2002), television (Bryant, Brown, Comisky & Zillmann, 1982; Andrews, 2011) and videogames (Liljedahl, 2011) use sound design extensively to augment and enhance the narrative drama, object interactions and play space atmospheres of elite sport (Andrews, 2011). 2K-Reality is a Sonic Interaction Design (SID) sports entertainment augmentation that transposes elite sports sound design traditions into real grassroots play spaces, to create a new immersive acoustic experience for pickup basketball players and spectators. The interface and interaction design; how the three categories of 2K-Reality sound are activated and mixed, reflects the latest NBA stadium sound design techniques that “blends the human element and the latest in tech in a new way” (Beckham, 2013, para. 1) in the form of DJs.

Mimicry and Make Believe

Most basketball players have “at some point played an imaginary game of basketball…with the score tied or our team trailing… we launch the potential game-winning shot. If the ball goes in, for a moment we live like a champion” (Elcombe, 2007, p.215). Pickup basketball players often use urban basketball play spaces as make-believe props (Turner, 2016; Bateman, 2009; Walton, 1990) to stimulate imaginary fictional worlds within which they perform exciting play scenarios. They mimic elite celebrity athletes and their styles of play (Morris, 2002), sometimes vocalising self-commentary and crowd sounds, and performing gestures towards crowds in imaginary stadiums. 2K-Reality augments the affordance of mimicry and make-believe that pickup basketball play spaces provide with orchestrated NBA-style soundscapes that amplify existing cultural practices to create new forms of NBA fantasy performances.

Sports Entrepreneurship

“Sport is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world” (Ratten, 2018, p.19) with a history of entrepreneurship; yet, while acknowledging that technology has served elite sports well, The Australian Sports Technology Network notes that “opportunities to fully commercialise sports technologies beyond this market (i.e. into semi-professional, ‘weekend warriors’, grassroots and consumer markets) have been under-utilised” (ASTN, n.d., para, 3). 2K-Reality specifically addresses such a design opportunity by targeting a global grassroots sporting activity in the context of the “growing recognition in the international business world about the role sport plays in commercial and social activities” (Ratten, 2018, p.15-16).

“Sports entrepreneurship is the exploitation of opportunities within the sports sector to create change” (Ratten, 2018, p.13) and a field that “needs to incorporate emerging technology through a more interdisciplinary approach” (Ratten, 2018, p.7) with an emphasis “on the discovery of creative ways to move forward the sports field” (Ratten, 2018, p.14). By proposing an outside-in, or inbound open innovation (Huizingh, 2011) for corporations with brands currently occupying pickup basketball play spaces, 2K-Reality ultimately aims to provide a case study that demonstrates how design-driven research conducted by an undisciplined designer come grassroots athlete, working in an academic context, can contribute to “micro level sports entrepreneurship [which] focuses on how individuals develop new ventures” (Ratten, 2018, p.8).


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