Location-based Mobile Games: Playing in Real Life

SID: 460196758  Linxiao Xie

Cherry, Thursday, 6pm



With the development of smartphone and the emergency of various smartphone apps, we can use phones everywhere and whenever to connect with others and entertain ourselves. We cannot live without our phones and it seems they have become one part of us. As apps market expansion, social media games appear diversely. Since smartphone help us break through limitation of realistic space, in order to meet the demand of consumers, more social media games become casual, which means they can be played in fragmental time with light-attention mode of engagement and can fill aperture time. There are easier objectives and rewards in casual games, absorbing a mass of users with different backgrounds.

Various casual mobile games


At the same time, location-based mobile games appeared. Mature digital maps, such as Google Maps, bring opportunity to location-based games, which based on Global Positioning System technology, transforming games on the computer to real world. That makes me think about the debate on ‘whether social media games are social or not’. Referring to location-based games, they must be social because of not only the interaction between users, but also the transformation between digital map and real environment.


Playful Digital Map

According to Lammes S and Wilmott C, location-based games (LBGs) is a kind of game that invite players engage into some specific playful games with digital maps, where the game messages are tied with real locations. Here are two main elements in the definition. First is ‘digital maps’. The digital maps are different from those mimetic maps that create new surroundings because digital map in location-based games use the elements in real world. It may sound odd cause games are creating a virtual world for players, but location-based games seem return to the real world again. Actually, LBGs allow users to remold real world. It is users that renegotiate spatial relations via playing and give new meaning to the map. Just like the Pokemon Go, in its interface, it shows a digital map comes from the real Google map. But with the movement of players, they can find and catch virtual pockmon which appears at random. Also, each player has different pokemon. The virtual and real world overlapped through smartphone in this game.

Figure 1, the interface of Broadway Shopping Center in Sydney in Pokemon Go. Figure 2, the interface of Broadway Shopping Center in Sydney in Google Map. Figure 3, overlap interface in Pokemon Go

However, it is not every game contained digital maps can be called location-based games. They should also meet the second element—playful. Above their location-based service, they are ‘games’ at first. Significantly, games have clear rules and objectives. In LBGs, players can manipulate maps, overcome game challenges set by story lines. Take ZombiesRun for example, it is a fitness game with a given background that players need to run to gather supplies, rescue survivors, and defend home. It relies on the real map and has various story missions. Players can choose the mode of walking, jogging or running. During playing, the background voice reminds you to run because zombies are closer. The item that ‘pick up’ in run can be used for building hospital in the virtual home.

Figure 1, running routes in real map. Figure 2, story missions. Figure 3, virtual collected items and home

On the contrary, some location-based social network platforms also contain digital maps but they have less nature of game. For example, the Foursquare, which provides different recommendation of place to go according to personal check-in history, is not an entire location-based game. It is more like a social platform that based on maps where users post and share comments with each other.

Function of Foursquare

Why LBGs are more social

In the area of social media games, 25% of players’ motivation is to identified social interaction within games (Hinton S &Hjorth L, 2013). As location-based games add virtual elements to real world, players can also find interaction out of games. In July, 2016, just after Pokemon Go lunched one week, users peaked to 28.5 million in the world, and we can see almost everyone was finding pokemon on the roads and share their pokemon in social media platforms.

People gathered to play Pokemon Go

There is a conception of ‘magic circle’ put forward by Huizinga J in 1938. According to the magic circle theory, it exists an invisible boundary between the game world and the real life. It seems like when players go into the game, the real surroundings disappeared, and players are isolated. So, in the conception of magic circle, there is no way for games become social. However, in location-based games, the move of players and the interface of games depend on real map. Magic circle no longer applicable. Why the boundary between games and reality disappear?

First, owing to the navigational interface. Location-based games follow a process by putting players’ physical moves to the image of the mapping interface. In analogue game-board, the map is settled. The game itself sets up the following steps of mapping. While in digital cartographical games, the map becomes transformable. Although games also set up in advance, players have more choices to find unique ways for touring. The flexibility, openness and transformation of location-based games make it impossible for magic circle existing.

Second, players’ engagement also play an important role. According to Hinton S and Hjorth L, users not only develop really relationship in games, but also make new relationship with instrumental friends. It is reported that people who use social media platforms have twice friends online as many as offline. And more than a half of teens use Internet as a way to make new friends. In location-based games, players can form a team, share in social media platform, and develop interaction out of games. Owing to the advantage of known location, the interaction among players becomes more conversant and veritable.


Issues and problems

As the location-based games service based on users’ sharing location, the problem of privacy erosion also come into being. On one hand, location-based service help players have better experience, on the other hand, precise location information brings potential risks. Owning to this reason, some users refuse to share their location or join teamwork, which weaken the playability of location-based games. How to improve user experience as well as protect user information is an issue that cannot avoid.


Personal experience

In this semester, location-based services attract my attention. I find many social media platforms, not only games, use location as their starting point of activities. We like using location as another way to share besides pictures and words. And we also enjoy the convenience comes from location sharing. My mother is a big fan of hiking, she loves using fitness apps with location services, so that she can share her hiking maps in social media platforms to show off her achievement. Moreover, she recommends me to use the same app as her, and she will know how many steps I walk a day, and the active walking time of me. That makes me scared because she can infer my daily routines by my unconscious location sharing. I suddenly realized, location-based services have deeply change our life style. In the group work of this term, we also use location-based theory in our campaign. We invite audience to share their location, and then we can produce a map to show the engagement of our campaign.



All in all, with the development of location-based games, our activities online become more and more social. The LGBs are games that based on digital maps. They are social because they have live navigational interface and users like to interact with each other. Although there still has privacy erosion in location-based services, thin kind of games have become a tendency in casual games market.



Bogage, J., & Andrews, T. M. (2016, July 25). Today in Pokémon Go: Nintendo stock tanks. Cops pull guns. Traffic grinds to halt. And more. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/07/25/today-in-pokemon-go-trouble-for-nintendo-iowa-city-montana-sydney-beyonce-and-more/?utm_term=.8efa2b66a963


Freudiger, J., Shokri, R., & Hubaux, J. (2012). Evaluating the Privacy Risk of Location-Based Services. Financial Cryptography and Data Security Lecture Notes in Computer Science,31-46.


Goggin, G., & Hjorth, L. (2014). Mobile games: from Tetris to Foursquare. Convergence: The Routledge companion to mobile media.


Greenwood, S. (2015, August 05). 57% of Teens Have Made New Friends Online. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/06/teens-technology-and-friendships/2015-08-06_teens-and-friendships_0-01-2/


Hinton, S &Hjorth, L. (2013). Social media games. Convergence: understanding Social Media.


Lammes, S., & Wilmott, C. (2016). The map as playground: Location-based games as cartographical practices. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies.


Quinn, B. (2011, May 08). Social network users have twice as many friends online as in real life. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/may/09/social-network-users-friends-online



One thought on “Location-based Mobile Games: Playing in Real Life

  1. This essay introduces Location-based mobile games and illustrates the relationship between LBGs and real life. It has specific introduction at the beginning, but the structure of the essay is not clear enough. The essay makes an argument on whether social media games are social or not through the researches of LBGs, and it uses data to support the author’s view.
    Then, it begins to consider about the reason why boundary between reality and games disappear. In my opinion, the most important reason is depend on what extent the development of technology and Internet. Before 20 years ago, Internet was not as popular and mature as nowadays, so there was only have single play games on computers or play stations. Before 10 years ago, smart phone just came out (the first generation of IPhone went public in 2007), most of people use traditional phones to connect each other, and it means that people could not have chances to contact with LBGs. But nowadays, we have mature Internet and advanced smart phones, these elements accelerate games close to reality, so the boundary between games and real life is disappearing.
    In addition, the author points out the issue of LBGs, which leak out personal informations to public. Actually, it could be more specific. LBGs leak out the real locations, players worry about the safety of LBGs, because some criminals use LBGs to survey locations for kidnapping teenagers or doing other crimes.
    So, LBGs is like a double-edged sword, it promotes communication among friends and families, but it close to reality too much and need to consider about its safety.

    Liked by 1 person

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