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Design and evaluation of player experience of a location-based mobile game


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This paper reports on the design and evaluation of player experience of a Location-Based Mobile Game set in Dublin, Ireland in which players act as paranormal investigators hunting for ghosts and gathering evidence of paranormal activity. The paper focuses on players' experience of engagement and immersion, which was evaluated through a qualitative user study undertaken over a three-day period with the participation of 19 subjects. We first discuss the concept of immersion in gaming and then review related work before presenting the design and implementation of our prototype and the results of our user study. The results show that the experience succeeds in creating a high level of immersion at several stages in the game and that this immersion can be influenced by several factors including usability, control, modes of interaction, aesthetics, flow and, perhaps most significantly, choice of location.
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Full Papers Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010
Design and Evaluation of Player Experience of a
Location-Based Mobile Game
Tara Carrigy, Katsiaryna Naliuka, Natasa Paterson, Mads Haahr
Trinity College Dublin
College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
{carrigyt, naliukak, patersn, mads.haahr}
This paper reports on the design and evaluation of player
experience of a Location-Based Mobile Game set in
Dublin, Ireland in which players act as paranormal
investigators hunting for ghosts and gathering evidence of
paranormal activity. The paper focuses on players’
experience of engagement and immersion, which was
evaluated through a qualitative user study undertaken over a
three-day period with the participation of 19 subjects. We
first discuss the concept of immersion in gaming and then
review related work before presenting the design and
implementation of our prototype and the results of our user
study. The results show that the experience succeeds in
creating a high level of immersion at several stages in the
game and that this immersion can be influenced by several
factors including usability, control, modes of interaction,
aesthetics, flow and, perhaps most significantly, choice of
Author Keywords
Engagement, Immersion, Location-Based Mobile Gaming
ACM Classification Keywords
H5.m. Information interfaces and presentation: User
Interfaces—User-centred design; Evaluation
Evaluation of players’ experience in any form of digitally
mediated gaming almost always refers to engagement, and
specifically immersion, as desirable aspects of gameplay. In
the general context of gaming, the term immersion is used
to loosely describe the degree to which the player becomes
involved or engaged in the game. Until recently
understanding of immersion in computer gaming has
mainly been developed in relation to PC and Console
Gaming. As the new contexts of Pervasive Gaming,
Augmented Reality (AR) Games and Location-Based
Mobile Games (LBMGs) continue to evolve, game
designers creating immersive gaming experiences will face
unique and unprecedented challenges.
In this paper, we report on a study of player experience of a
working prototype of a LBMG. Our primary goal was to
test our assumptions about factors that contribute to the
creation of engaging, compelling and immersive gameplay.
Another motivation was to expand our understanding of
players’ engagement and to develop strategies for future
development of this game. We begin by exploring
established notions of engagement and immersion in
gaming. Next we survey related work, focusing on research
projects that evaluate player engagement, most specifically
in the context of LBMG and more broadly in the context of
Pervasive and AR Gaming. We then describe the design
and implementation of the prototype and present our set-up
and methodology for the qualitative evaluation study.
Finally, we present the results of our study and discuss our
findings with some strategies for further development.
In the general context of gaming, gamers, developers and
researchers describe the players’ experience of engagement
or involvement in the game as immersion [3]. The term
immersion is often used to describe the experience of losing
track of the outside world and the boundaries of the magic
circle, the imaginative space in which the game is played
[1]. As we have already alluded to, initial understanding of
the term immersion in gaming referred to the context of
video and computer gaming and is therefore inevitably
associated with VR technologies where the player enters or
plunges into the virtual game world [5,19]. By stating that
immersion is ‘the sensation of being surrounded by a
completely other reality’ and ‘the experience of being
transported to an elaborate simulated place’, Janet Murray’s
definition of immersion reflects this association [19]. In the
VR and Virtual Environments (VE) research community
immersion is commonly accepted as the qualities of a
media that create sensory impact by surrounding the user
[9, 29] and for decades this community has defined a set of
‘immersive factors’ almost exclusively in relation to the
technology. For example, Slater proposes that immersion
can be objectively assessed as the characteristics of a
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NordiCHI 2010, October 1620, 2010, Reykjavik, Iceland.
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Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010 Full Papers
technology, and has dimensions such as the extent to which
a display system can deliver an inclusive, extensive,
surrounding, and vivid illusion of virtual environment to a
participant’ [29]. In contrast, however, Witmer suggests
that immersion is a psychological state that can be
influenced by the immersive tendencies of the individual
participant [34]. In VE research, immersion is often
measured by presence, ‘the subjective experience of being
in one place or environment, even when one is physically
situated in another’ [34]. In this context it is common to
assume that presence can only be experienced through
immersion in the VE [29,34] and that greater presence leads
to greater engagement.
Game theorists Salen and Zimmermann offer another
perspective on immersion and presence when they observe
that equating the experience of immersion with being
‘sensually’ transported to another separate, simulated
reality so convincing that the player truly believes that he
or she is part of an imaginary world’ [27] is a fallacy that
assumes the technologically mediated experience can
become so sophisticated that it will be capable of ‘fully
illusionistic experiences indistinguishable from the real
world’ [27]. They propose that, in the context of gaming,
the immersive fallacy of engagement through simulation is
a one-dimensional approach to player engagement that
‘misrepresents how play functions’. In contrast Salen and
Zimmermann suggest that engagement ‘occurs through play
itself in a process of double consciousness [27], whereby
the players become engrossed in the game while
simultaneously aware of the medium and the ‘artificiality of
the play situationand thus perceiving play as something
separate from, but nevertheless connected to the real world.
This understanding of immersion does not disregard the
power of simulation and the potential for engagement as a
result of presence but it does present player engagement as
a more complex and active process and this approach is
especially relevant in the context of LBMG where the
player is constantly shifting focus between the media and
the physical environment and where gameplay moves
fluidly between mediated and directly felt experience.
Player engagement and immersion in games is essentially
performative and participatory and occurs as a direct result
of active involvement, attention and interaction. In games,
players are actively rather than passively engaged in the
gameplay experience and therefore the quality of the
players’ interaction with the game system, through the
game mechanics, is a key factor influencing immersion.
Players enter the game through the game controls [3] and
mastery of the game mechanics (the interface between the
player and the game world) is the ‘price of admission’ [25]
to the gameplay; as players learn how to use the game
controls to play the game, their focus switches from
conscious attention to internalised or tacit knowledge. This
state of deep involvement shortens the distance between
player and environment and results in immersion [4].
Players expect to be rewarded for the time, effort and
attention spent learning, what Lindley refers to as, the
‘gameplay gestalt [17], the pattern of player interaction
with the game system. Cairns and Brown’s grounded theory
of immersion suggests that as players pass through the
barriers associated with the preliminary stages of
psychological engagement, they are rewarded by a more
imaginative experience that Cairns and Brown describe as
total immersion [3,28]. Engagement and immersion
therefore are part of a continuum of player experience,
where initial engagement is associated with learning the
game mechanics and is a prerequisite for deeper total
immersion, which is the performance of the game
mechanics in order to experience the gameplay. In this
sense immersion is similar to flow, ‘the state in which
individuals are so involved in an activity that nothing else
seems to matter’ [6] and where attention becomes so
focused that ‘sense of time is altered and sense of self is
lost’ [3]. Flow is the ‘state at the boundary between
engagement and immersion, of being totally absorbed in
meeting the constantly unfolding challenge’, which Lindley
also refers to as immersion in performance [17]. For the
purposes of this paper, we take the essential difference
between experiences at either end of this continuum as
follows: engagement is more active than immersion, and
total immersion is closer to flow, the immersive state
achieved when this activity is balanced by the players’
skills and becomes so transparent that the player can
experience deep but effortless involvement in the game
Immersion in gaming is considered to be more than the
objective characteristics of the technology but also the
subjective experience of the player as s/he plays the game.
Recognising the different levels and stages of engagement
and immersion in gaming, many researchers have
emphasised that the experience of immersion is a transient
and often fleeting state [3,10,23]. Part of the focus of this
paper is to establish the factors that influence the players’
experience of engagement and immersion as they move
through the game, and in particular highlight those specific
to the context of LBMG.
Researchers evaluating player experience in LBMGs have
explored several factors that impact on player engagement
and immersion, the most common focus being on the
significance of location. Some LBMG blur the boundary
between fact and fiction and leverage a combination of
local legend and history to engage players, heighten their
awareness and change their perception of the everyday
places, where the games are located [2,22,34]. By
evaluating REXplorer, a LBMG set in the Medieval city of
Regensburg, researchers found that interweaving real world
landmarks into the game’s narrative, which they based on a
mixture of local folklore and medieval history, added an
authenticity to the gameplay that increased players’
immersion [2]. Similarly, Visby Under and Frequency
Full Papers Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010
1550, are both LBMGs that use the immersive qualities of
location to bring history to life and enhance player
engagement [30]. Likewise Nisi et al, in their evaluation of
Media Portrait of the Liberties, also report achieving
deeper story immersion and an enhanced sense of place by
overlapping and connecting narrative with location [20].
Riot! 1831, a locative interactive play, used audio to
recreate the riots of 1831 and GPS technology to situate this
media at the exact location in Bristol where the riots
occurred [24]. Participants reported empathy with the
people involved in the riots and a sense of ‘walking in their
footsteps’. Research revealed a high level of immersion as
direct result of mapping historic narrative onto relevant
locations but also exposed that immersion is a transient
state that can be affected by environmental factors
associated with that location. Evaluation of LBMGs created
using the Mediascapes toolkit highlights how making use of
aspects in the physical environment can make the games
more engaging. In recognising the difficulty but
nevertheless high potential for immersion associated with a
tight coupling of game content and environment, the
Mediascapes researchers propose a strategy for ‘designing
for coincidence whereby environment features or the
behaviour of other people become aligned with the content
of the game and are perceived by the player as highly
engaging ‘magic moments [24]. Finally in relation to
choice of location, researchers evaluating LOCUNET found
that locating LBMGs in public spaces could have a negative
impact on immersion if players felt inhibited or threatened
by the presence of passers-by [7].
As well as transforming the players’ perception of space
with story, some researchers in the field of LBMG have
explored techniques for augmenting space with visuals and
sounds, which players will perceive as part of the hybrid
gameworld, and have evaluated how this impacts on player
engagement and immersion. For example, researchers
compared player engagement in AR Façade to the previous
PC version of the interactive narrative game Façade, and
found that while the players of the AR version felt an
increased sense of presence this did not necessarily result in
increased player engagement [9]. Early user evaluation of
TimeWarp, an outdoor augmented reality game played in
the city of Cologne using a HMD, revealed that GPS
tracking issues combined with the graphical realism of the
AR objects, limited players’ sense of presence because the
objects floated around too much or did not appear to be real
[28]. Evaluation of Interference, a LBMG using AR
technology to superimpose 3D models on the mobile’s live
video stream, revealed that the aesthetics, which helped to
blend the physical world into the game world, were the
most significant factor contributing to player immersion in
the game [33]. In relation to acoustic augmentation,
research in VE has shown that accurately synthesized
spatialised sound can increase presence [11] and
researchers have shown how these techniques can be used
to create realistic localised sound and a 3D audio
soundscape that can be easily navigated by players and thus
may increase immersion in Locative Games [5]. In Songs of
the North, researchers used an audio interface to create an
engaging location-aware mobile game because they felt that
audio was a more appropriate medium for creating an
immersive hybrid gameworld [15]. Related work has also
shown that the mode of interaction in LBMG can affect
player engagement. For example, REXplorer [2] uses
gestural based interaction to physically engage players,
while the iPerg [32] researchers recommend that the use of
authentic or real world interaction models, such as walking
around to discover elements of the game, can increase
player immersion.
In addition to evaluations of LBMGs that focus on
immersion and engagement, other related work includes
research that has focused on methodology and models for
evaluating player experience in the context of Pervasive
Gaming. In the Pervasive GameFlow (PGF) model [13,14],
Jegers develops a model of player enjoyment of Pervasive
Gaming based on the GameFlow model originally
developed by Sweetser and Wyeth [31] and following
Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow as described in the
previous section. With regard to immersion the PGF model
recommends that pervasive games should enable players to
shift focus from virtual and physical parts of the game and
seamlessly transition between the gameworld and everyday
contexts [13]. Ermi and Mäyrä’s SCI model of immersion
[10] is also useful for evaluation in the context of LBMG
because it opens up the possibility of measuring player
immersion from the perspective of the player. The SCI
model of immersion considers player immersion from three
perspectives: Sensory, Challenge-Based and Imaginative
and in doing so encompasses key elements of gaming and is
closely aligned to game models proposed by the gaming
and game theory community, for example Lindley’s
Simulation, Gameplay and Narrative taxonomy [16,17].
Viking Ghost Hunt (VGH) is a location-aware adventure
game, based on a Gothic ghost story set in Viking Dublin
(800-1169). In this game the player assumes the role of a
paranormal investigator and moves around the city hunting
for ghosts, collecting evidence and solving the mysteries of
haunted Viking Dublin. The game is designed as a single-
player, immersive gameplay experience, in which the
player is an active character in an unfolding drama. In order
to progress the game, the player must unlock a sequence of
location-specific narrative fragments, by completing a
series of challenges and missions. Throughout the VGH
game design, we focused on two design goals: to give
meaning to play by maintaining the aesthetics of role-play
and to exploit the characteristics of the locations by
integrating them into the game to create an engaging
Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010 Full Papers
In order to preserve the illusion or magic circle the players
assumed role as a paranormal investigator must persist at all
times. We set this up by presenting all of the aspects of
gameplay, including the aesthetics, challenges and modes
of interaction, in the context of paranormal investigation.
Equipped with a paranormal investigation device and an
audio headset, the players’ goal is to conduct investigations
by hunting down ghosts and gathering evidence, by making
audio recordings or taking photographs of ghostly
apparitions. Players use Google maps to search for the
location of an alleged haunting in Viking Dublin. Players
begin their investigation by using the Radar (see Figure 1)
to locate paranormal activity in the region. This Radar also
includes an Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF) meter,
which informs players of the levels of paranormal activity
and the strength of the manifestations. A dowsing meter
(based on the metaphor of dowsing rods used to divine
water or paranormal activity) helps to guide the player in
the direction of the haunting. Once the player has located
the paranormal activity, s/he can begin to collect evidence
that will substantiate the alleged haunting. Players use the
Frequency Scanner (see Figure 1) to tune in and decode the
static, in order to reveal the ghostly voices in the white
noise, in a process reminiscent of Electronic Voice
Phenomenon. Ghost View can be used to photograph visual
manifestations. Players’ can review their progress in
Casebook, a database that stores players’ evidence and
contains extra narrative about the ghosts.
User Interface Design
The User Interface (UI) design was guided by the aesthetics
of role-play, as described above, and the intention of
facilitating embodied interaction [8] with the game as is
appropriate for situated and location-based gaming. To
these ends, we designed the UI to look and feel like a tool
for paranormal investigation and to evoke a similar
cognitive process as someone investigating a radioactive
area with a Geiger counter. By employing a visual style of
presentation reminiscent of mechanical devices of the past,
we established a set of affordances that suggested the
appropriate mode of interaction to the user while
simultaneously reinforcing the aesthetics of role-play and
atmosphere of the game. By way of engaging the player in
the processes of searching for and collecting evidence, we
applied the principles of direct manipulation by enabling
phenomenological interaction via touch screen gestures and
multimodal feedback in response to players’ actions and
movements. As much as possible, the intention was to
reference real world actions as interaction metaphors so that
players could easily master the gameplay gestalt by
leveraging their existing tacit knowledge [4,17]. For
example, navigating the gameworld is achieved through the
activity of searching for ghosts by walking around the
location and using the Radar to detect paranormal activity.
The players’ proximity to the ghost is indicated using a
combination of visual representation and a fluctuation in
audio and tactile feedback, hence the players can navigate
the gameworld using a combination of sound, sight and
touch. Collecting evidence by photographing ghosts using
the camera function is also an intuitive and familiar mode
of interaction.
Figure 1. Radar (left) and Frequency Scanner (right).
Use of Location
We set the game around St. Audeon’s, a Medieval church
and public parkland situated within the Old Viking City
Walls of Dublin because of its historical and thematic
relevance and potential for a varied player experience. With
the intention of blurring the distinction between fact and
fiction, we based the game’s narrative on a mixture of local
ghost stories and urban myths as well as factual history. We
included contrasting locations in the mission design in order
to test the impact of location on gameplay. The main
location was ideal for the theme and atmosphere of the
game and we were able to integrate features such as the
Medieval style church, windy ramparts, high stone walls,
dark archways and damp and eerie laneways; all classic
motifs of the Gothic ghost story genre. Narrative was used
to draw player’s attention to physical features in the
environment and integrate them as part of the gameworld.
Dialogue, in combination with sound effects, helped players
imagine a scene from the past. For example, in the Viking
era, the River Liffey was much broader than it is today and
hence the grassy area outside the old city walls was once a
beach; we recreated this scene using sound effects and
descriptive narrative. Similarly, the narrow laneway and
medieval staircase at the side of the church was transformed
into the ‘Lane of Hell’ by a dense interplay of atmospheric
dialogue enhanced by realistic sound effects. Exploiting the
characteristics of the locations is depends on presenting
relevant content to the player in relation to their position in
the gameworld. We set this up by specifying regions where
the assets would be triggered and then used GPS to detect
when players had entered these regions. Since GPS
technology is prone to lagging and errors, efforts were
made to minimize inaccuracies by creating large regions
Full Papers Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010
and positioning them at locations with good GPS reception
(e.g. open areas not shadowed by trees and buildings). In
situations where we needed to place content close to
buildings, for example in the ‘Lane of Hell’ scenario, we
used the physical properties of the space to compensate for
the lack of GPS updates in this region. In this example, the
assets were triggered by regions at either end of the lane
thus limiting the experience of this content to the confines
of the lane. Despite this approach, the resolution remained
fairly low in precision and therefore the assets could only
be loosely mapped to specific physical features.
Figure 2. Using Radar’s touch screen zoom (left) and Ghost
View (right).
Augmented Reality
Various Augmented Reality (AR) techniques were used to
transform and augment the players’ visual and auditory
perceptions of the location. With the aim of creating the
illusion that the ghost is actually present in the player's
surroundings, the players’ view of the scene is augmented
by animations displayed on top of the live video stream in
the viewfinder of the camera. The effect is perceived as
more realistic when the ghost is anchored to a point in the
scene and therefore appears to remain stationary in the
physical surroundings even when the player moves the
camera. Due to the impracticalities of placing optical
markers into a public space and the expensive overhead of
performing real-time image analysis, it was not possible to
employ computer vision techniques to anchor the ghost
overlay within the scene. Instead we tracked the direction of
the viewfinder using the device’s orientation sensors and
although (due to the unreliable nature of the sensor data) the
ghost representation was not completely fixed within the
scene, we speculated that the visual floating effect would be
credible in the context of ghostly apparitions. Acoustic
augmentation of the location was achieved by using
spatialisation and reverberation techniques [19] to
realistically match the game’s sound effects to those
naturally occurring in the environment and as a way of
deliberately creating ambiguity between the game and the
real world. In addition a localised soundscape was created
by varying the volume of the sound effects in response to
the players’ movements around the hybrid gameworld.
Audio and visual augmentations were constrained by the
resource limitations of the Android development platform
which requires the assets to be loaded into memory on
demand. The implication of this constraint is that the file
size needed to be very small thus hampering the creation of
realistic effects and also the assets had to be positioned far
enough apart to give the device time to re-load each of the
individual assets as required.
We evaluated the VGH game by running a series of field
trials over a three-day period. The 19 participants who took
part had varying degrees of prior experience of gaming and
ranged in age from 18-48. We evaluated the participants
response to the game using a post-game qualitative
questionnaire loosely based on a combination of established
models of player engagement and immersion [10,14,31,34].
The questionnaire included both open ended and bounded
questions designed to obtain feedback on engagement,
control, usability, presence and impact of location. While
an in-game evaluation technique such as ‘think-aloud’ may
have captured a more immediate and visceral response to
the game, this was not practical due to resource limitations.
We also captured data during the game using the system
logs. While this data did support the information gathered
by the retrospective questionnaires it did not offer anymore
insight into the player experience and therefore we will not
present this data as part of our evaluation.
General Overview
Evaluation of the user study results reveals that overall
participants were engaged in the game. Feedback from
three of the bounded questions illustrate that the majority of
participants (79%), agreed or strongly agreed, that it was a
fun experience, time passed quickly and they felt engaged
by the game. All participants reported varying levels of
engagement at different stages of the game. In general, the
findings support previous research that indicates immersion
is a variable and transient state, which progressively
deepens as players became more skillfully engaged in the
gameplay [3,4,17,23]. Many players describe becoming
more immersed as the game progressed and as they became
more comfortable using the UI or accomplishing the
challenges and as the story began to unfold.
“It was more immersive once I got used to the UI and the
story started to link one sighting to the next”
“I didn’t feel immersed until near the end, the beginning
isn’t so engaging, as I was trying to get used to how to
control the game and find the evidence at the same time”
Interaction and immersion in gameplay
The user study findings show that by far the most engaging
aspects of gameplay were connected to the mastery of the
game mechanics. For the most part, players found the
search mechanic satisfying and enjoyed the process of
physically moving around the environment hunting for
evidence of paranormal activity and the sense of
achievement when they accomplished the challenge.
“The gameplay was lovely, the different modes and the
physical moving around to track things down.
Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010 Full Papers
Overall players used the multimodal features of the Radar
interface as a guide when searching for ghosts; 79% of
participants mainly used the graphical interface but also
used audio and tactile feedback to support the visual
feedback. Since information about the position of the ghost
was presented in different ways, players could choose their
preferred method or tools to help them find the ghosts. For
example, testers might focus on visual, tactile or audio
feedback or a combination all features.
“I used the proximity meter (i.e. number readout) to
determine my distance.”
“The sound effects and the pulsing of the handset helped
point me in the right direction.”
Many players described collecting evidence as the most
immersive part of the game because they were
simultaneously engaged in the activity of recording
evidence while also receiving a reward for progressing in
the game in the form of a story fragment.
Figure 3. Player interacting with ghosts in St.Audeons.
“It felt satisfying. The ability to find audio and images was
a good mix. I never got bored searching. The most
immersive part was after I’d located a ghost or artifact, and
am trying to record it
“Felt most immersed with dialogue and with use of
camera, felt engaged when I caught the floating
apparitions. Dialogue gave more direction and hence more
Impact of control
The study shows that GPS and usability issues negatively
impacted on the player experience with the result that only
63% of players said they felt in control of the game. In the
main, efforts to reduce the negative impact of GPS errors
were successful. In particular the strategy implemented in
the Lane of Hell region, as described in the design section,
resulted in the delivery of relevant content at appropriate
locations despite lack of GPS coverage. Nevertheless some
players did experience bad GPS service and this caused a
high degree of distraction and frustration.
“The most difficult part of the game was the device
reliability: sometimes the GPS ‘ghost’ would point me in
the wrong direction.”
Usability issues occurred due to latency and
unresponsiveness of the touch screen and sensors as a result
of resource limitations while new assets were being loaded.
For example sometimes the zoom function of the Radar
became slow to react and therefore participants found it
awkward to use and often “required moving slowly and
stopping regularly for re-calibration
Impact of location
A significant finding of the user study was the impact that
the location had on player engagement and immersion.
Almost all the participants agree (84%) that the location
contributed to the overall game experience because the
historical significance of the main site gave context to the
narrative, while the atmosphere of the place enhanced the
players’ perception of the supernatural theme of the game.
“The historical significance of the place influenced my
perception of the game”
Most participants had not previously visited this site and
commented that this added a sense of intrigue to the
“The church had walls, nooks and crannies; also, the
alleyway by the side of the church, the high walls, the
archway all added to a kind ofmysterious’ atmosphere.”
Participants confirmed that their experience of the game
varied in relation to the ambience of the locations; the
aesthetics of the main site were much more conducive to
the atmosphere of the game than the commercial streets and
housing estates at the periphery of the historic site. The
relative remoteness of the church grounds also enhanced
player immersion because the location was quiet and less
populated than the urban streets and therefore afforded
uninterrupted engagement.
“The isolated lane around the side of the church was more
atmospheric and hence I felt more immersed”
Figure 4. Players at St. Audeon’s Arch and the ‘Lane of Hell’.
Players’ noted that the use of headphones helped to engage
them in the game by reducing distractions without
completely disconnecting them from the ambient sounds of
Full Papers Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010
the location, which were still hear audible with the
headphones on.
“The only thing that distracted me was a passing
ambulance as I caught a sound ghost”.
Players found the locations on the busy urban streets
outside of the church afforded a less immersion experience
due to distractions such as noise levels, passersby and
traffic safety issues. It was difficult to hear the audio at the
points located near to the roadside due to the traffic noise
and some felt that safety was an issue in this scenario.
While a few players felt self-conscious playing the game in
public, especially if they were in the way of other
pedestrians when they stopped in the middle of the pathway
to listen to the narrative, for the most part players took less
notice of other people in areas such as the park as they felt
these areas were already designated for play and one
participant commented: “I was fully immersed and didn’t
take notice of tourists and workmen around me.
Role-play and aesthetics
In general, participants agreed (84%) that the visual
appearance and sounds of the UI made the device feel more
like a tool for paranormal investigation than a phone. In
comparison less participants (68%) reported feeling like a
paranormal investigator when they were playing the game
and therefore we can conclude that while the audio and
visual aesthetics supported the impression that the device
was real, the game mechanics did not support role-play to
the same extent. Nevertheless, participants described
several features of the UI that they associated with
paranormal investigation and felt that the headset helped
make the role-play feel genuine.
“I did feel like a paranormal investigator, hunting things
down was great and twiddling with the knobs to tune in”
“I had the device to find the object and I felt like the ghost
hunters from the film”
In addition, and reflecting the cumulative nature of
immersion, many participants reported feeling more
engaged in the role-play as the game progressed.
“After a few discoveries it was easy to get into the game
and to feel more like an investigator.”
Overall the findings show that participants perceived the
game assets, and in particular the audio assets, as realistic
and this contributed to player engagement. Participants
reacted emotively to the dialogue spoken by the audio
ghosts and many described the experience of listening to
these ghosts as ‘scary’, ‘spooky’, ‘haunting’, ‘atmospheric,
‘realistic’, ‘believable’ and as a result ‘engaging’,
‘immersive and ‘entertaining’.
“I found it [the ghost speaking] one of the most immersive
features of the game really enjoyed it.”
Many players commented that when the ghosts spoke to
them, the experience felt very personal and rewarding and
this helped to engage the player in the game because it
communicated the players’ progress.
“Felt kind of like a personal experience like it was tailor-
made for me and the ghost was egging me on to the next
79% participants felt the game audio sounded natural in the
environment and some testers refer to incidences when the
game sound blended with the ambient sounds of the
environment in a manner that created ambiguity as to which
was virtual and which was real.
“The natural sounds of the city were kind of a nice extra
layer of atmosphere rather than a distraction, there were
children playing and a church bell ringing and a little bit of
Players also felt rewarded and satisfied when they
encountered and photographed visual assets and their
remarks reveal the cumulative success of this game
“Increasing use of visual (rather than auditory) clues
heightened the experience as the game unfolded.
Many participants reported feeling engaged’,
‘entertained’, ‘excited’, ‘surprised’ or ‘satisfied’ when they
encountered a visual manifestation of a ghost, others
described the visual ghosts as ‘scary’, ‘realistic’, ‘cool’ and
‘good fun’ and one player remarkedthe effect of it floating
there was good, especially the first time when I wasn’t
expecting it’. In general, the visual assets, were not as
convincing as the audio ghosts. It seems that the limited
animation sequence negatively impacted on the user
experience and some participants’ remarks reveal that the
animations were barely perceptible.
“Didn’t seem real. Could have made the ghost appear like
it was more than just a picture and part of the scenery.”
Narrative Immersion
The most diverse feedback we received was in relation to
narrative; while some players remained highly engaged
with the game mechanics and less involved by the content
of the story, others found that performing these mechanics
gave players access to immersion in the narrative and
“when clues began, the game was more exciting”
“I wanted to figure out how to get the evidence… but I was
not really interested in what the evidence was”
“Story interests me most. I just like the ‘adventure’ idea of
tracking down the information.
Some players noted that gameplay was a more essential
aspect to the game but had they had more time they would
have explored the narrative elements in more depth, while
others stated that they were not that interested in using the
casebook because they were more interested in gameplay.
“The interaction with the game was more about
achievement ….I would like to play the game again and
Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010 Full Papers
focus more on the story and not be distracted figuring out
the equipment.”
Most players felt they did not have time to use the casebook
to find out more about ghosts but some players remarked
that if they were playing under normal circumstances they
would have used casebook more. Many players admitted to
skimming the game and only did what they had to do to get
to the end.
“I skipped this bit [reading casebook] as I was lagging
behind and felt I needed to move on to the next find.”
The players who did use casebook reported that the back-
stories were interesting and increased their empathy with
the characters. As with the other game features, immersion
in the story increased as the game progressed.
“As the game progressed, I certainly did get more
immersed. As you find the different clues and items and
realise you are following a particular ghost character it
becomes more engaging
Challenge-based Immersion
The results of the study show that engagement in play itself
and immersion in performance were experienced by the
players as the most immersive aspects of the VGH game.
Furthermore the study shows that engagement in the game
mechanics is cumulative, not only because as players skills
increase they become absorbed in a state of flow, but also
because by engaging in these mechanics, players become
exposed to other gameplay elements such as reward and
narrative. We found that players entered the game through
the game mechanics and in this sense our study of
immersion supports the research we reviewed at the
beginning of this paper [3,10,25,27]. Reflecting Ermi and
Mäyrä’s evaluation of PC games, we found that when we
applied their SCI model of immersion [27] in the context of
LBMGs, challenge-based immersion was also the type of
immersion most frequently experienced by the players. For
many players, recording audio or photographing ghosts was
the most immersive part of the game because as well as
creating atmosphere and communicated elements of the
narrative, collecting evidence helped the players advance in
the game. The study also indicates that this form of
immersion is more easily achieved in the context of
LBMGs when challenges are presented to the player in the
form of easily controlled real world interactions.
Real World Interaction
The results of the study confirm previous research
indicating that in the context of LBMGs the most successful
game mechanics are those that combine real world activities
as part of the core interaction [2, 32]. For example, the
search mechanic involves players walking around hunting
for ghosts and the game supports a phenomenological
approach to this challenge by providing multimodal
feedback to players’ movements thus enabling players to
focus on the feedback which they found most intuitive.
Comparing user response to our two modes of collecting
evidence (recording audio and taking photographs) also
supports the argument that more familiar, ‘everyday’
interactions are easier to perform in this context because
they are more immediately intuitive and serve as more
expedient modes of interaction because they rely on
players’ existing tacit knowledge [4,17]. These findings
compliment the evaluation of REXplorer where players
faced difficulties performing gestural interactions due to
their novelty and associated learning curve [2]. As with
previous research [7] our study reveals that players were
less likely to experience immersion when they felt
conspicuous playing the game in a public space however
we also found that players were less inhibited when
performing more ‘everyday’ interactions in public spaces
designated for leisure activities. This confirms Jegers
recommendation that LBMG should support a ‘seamless
transition between the gameworld and everyday contexts’
in a manner that does not break the social norms associated
with these contexts [13].
Since players enter the game through the game controls,
usability issues can have a negative effect on immersion. At
times GPS errors disrupted players’ enjoyment of the game
and this well documented issue remains for anyone
designing a LBMG. However in our user study, despite the
fact that many participants did not always feel fully in
control of the game many reported high levels of
engagement and immersion and this seems to confirm
Norman’s theory [3,17] that if the overall experience is
interesting enough then users will be prepared to put up
with minor usability issues. While some participants
experienced difficulties at the beginning of the game, the
findings of the study show that as players progressed, for
the most part control ceased to be an issue. Having said that
our recommendation for UI design for a LBMG is that the
interface be made as simple and easy to control as possible
because players have less tolerance for learning new
interactions in this scenario and the inevitable GPS issues
already create a difficulty level that need not be further
extended by a complicated interface. Our study confirms
Jegers’ recommendation that in relation to control, players
in the context of LBMG need to be able to easily pick up
the game and begin playing [13].
Augmented Reality
The results of the user study show that choice of location
can impact dramatically on sensory immersion in the
context of LBMGs and by enhancing and transforming the
players’ perception of their surroundings, atmosphere can
become a unifying and highly engaging aspect of the game.
The findings reveal that the aesthetics of the assets most
effectively contribute to the players’ sensory immersion
when they become subtly blended with the real world; for
example, when the ambient sounds of the game merged
with the environmental sounds of the location. The results
Full Papers Proceedings: NordiCHI 2010, October 16–20, 2010
also reveal that if this juxtaposition is not smooth enough,
as was the case with the AR visuals, then the players will
perceive it as jarring and unconvincing and hence a
disruptive rather than engaging factor. This supports the
findings of the evaluation of TimeWarp [28] as reviewed in
the related work section. While to some degree the floating
effect of the AR visuals was perceived as acceptable within
the ghostly theme and context of the VGH game, it is clear
that the visuals need to be more integrated into the
surroundings in order to achieve a credible visual effect.
Stabilising the visual overlays within the scene would also
enable designers to employ the cinematic technique of
‘mise-en-scene’ whereby explicit visual attention could be
drawn to specific landmarks as the player views them
through the lens of the device. This could also address the
fact that some players felt the game did not facilitate
enough engagement in the surrounding environment.
“Paradoxically the game encourages looking at the screen
more than the surroundings.
These findings highlight one of the unique challenges of
creating presence in the context of LBMGs using the
processing power of a mobile phone. Given the limited
technical resources of the device and the significant
potential of leveraging the location, it seems that at the
moment the greatest potential for creating presence and
sensory immersion in this context lies in the power to subtly
transform the existing characteristics of the location into a
sensually engaging gameworld by enabling players to
simultaneously focus on virtual and physical parts of the
Imaginative Immersion
Overall we found that players needed to achieve a degree of
effortless engagement before they could fully experience
imaginative immersion and therefore this type of immersion
is not dissimilar to immersion in the general gaming context
[3,10]. The choice of location can influence the level of
imaginative immersion not only by supporting the
atmosphere and narrative but by also ensuring safety and
lack of distraction. In some instances the narrative and
audio completely transformed the players perception of the
landscape, for example, one participant referred to the
‘wistful description of the River Liffey’ and the soundscape
that described the original course of the river.
“The church and surroundings were smashing, really
wonderful moment standing outside it and being told about
the shores of the Liffey once being underfoot.”
We speculate that part of the reason it was easy for players
to imagine this alternate scene was the fact that the location
where the game was situated was not that dissimilar to the
one being described and was conducive to imaginative
immersion due to the aesthetics of the location and lack of
distractions. These findings contrasts with the evaluation of
Riot! 1831 where researchers found that lack of visible
structures that related to the experience made it difficult for
participants to achieve imaginative immersion to the extent
that they almost had to close their eyes in order to block out
their physical surroundings [23].
Our study reveals that while many aspects of the gameplay
contributed to imaginative immersion, for example role-
play and the atmosphere of the location, the story itself was
not a hugely engaging aspect of the game. While players
enjoyed the activities associated with discovering the
evidence and piecing together the clues in order to proceed
to the next find, very few participants spent time exploring
the stories behind the evidence, which together made up the
over-arching narrative of the game. There are a number of
reasons for this outcome, the first being that, as described
above, players needed to master the game controls in order
to gain access to the unfolding narrative. However the main
reason was that this mode of interaction, reading text on a
small screen, is inconvenient in an outdoor location-based
context. In future developments of the VGH game we
intend to focus on conveying all of the narrative through
short audio and visual assets and in doing so take advantage
of the more accessible descriptive potential of these
In this paper we have observed that player experiences are
cumulative. As players learned to gain control of the game
mechanics they achieved deeper immersion in the narrative
and imaginative aspects of gameplay. Supporting
engagement and immersion in LBMGs is also dependent on
utilising appropriate real world interactions and carefully
selecting locations in relation to thematic relevance,
atmosphere, aesthetics, safety issues, lack of potential
distractions and social context. By leveraging the existing
characteristics of the location, Augmented Reality
techniques can be used to transform the surroundings in
order to create a hybrid gameworld where the player can
become immersed in the flow of play while simultaneously
remaining connected to the real world.
We wish to thank the rest of the VGH team (Roisin Cotton,
Daniel Crowley, Alan Duggan, Tina Hedayet, Soren
Kristian Jensen and Sean O’Reilly), the NDRC and all
those who participated in the user study.
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Storytelling has been part of human culture throughout history. Stories become profound when they are related to real places. In this paper we look at the use of location-based media and augmented reality to create storytelling experiences to assist visitors in a protected nature area. This was done in collaboration with an adventure tourism company to find alternatives to mountain signposts and take a technological approach promoting self-motivated tourism. Users (N = 30) tested a location-based AR application for mobile devices. Participants were split into two groups to test two variations of the application: a text-only variation was compared to an AR-based variation. Overall user experience for the two variations was evaluated using subjective measures. The results from our study indicate a higher immersion and a sense of flow in the AR-based variation of the application. Similarly, the AR-based variation also elicited higher desirability compared to the text-only variation.
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This chapter examines traditional game theories from the perspective of social interaction and applies them to the investigation of LBMGs through a particular location-based system, LOCUNET. The project and part of its theoretical framework are used as an example in order to illustrate the interconnections between the aforementioned theories and the novel forms of play fostered by LBMGs. In the following sections, we first describe LOCUNET’s theoretical framework, which should be seen as a tool to be used when investigating locative media (LM) ii from a communication theory perspective. Then we describe the LOCUNET activity and the technological infrastructure used to create the activity. Finally, we discuss the process of investigating the user experience and its results, which are particularly relevant to the topic of the chapter. Ultimately, this chapter presents some of the findings of the LOCUNET project that may be particularly relevant to the design of location-based playful activities focused on communication and social interaction.
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In 1999, Doug Church proposed the use of formal abstract design tools for game design [3]. Part of Church's suggestion,was,to develop,a common,design,vocabulary.,It's ironic that while the game,design,community,has,started,to develop,these,more,rigorous,design,principles,for games, there is much confusion even about the most basic of questions, such as what a game is, compared to a story or a simulation. This confusion only increases when we start to consider new and emerging forms like mobile games, location-based games and pervasive games. It's obvious that we need some basic distinctions and definitions at the highest level, so that more detailed,methods,can,be sorted,into their appropriate,areas,of application. Developing,a basic language,for describing,different,types,of games,requires,different
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In this paper we present the results of a qualitative, empirical study exploring the impact of immersive technologies on presence and engagement, using the interactive drama Façade as the object of study. In this drama, players are situated in a married couple's apartment, and interact primarily through conversation with the characters and manipulation of objects in the space. We present participants' experiences across three different versions of Façade – augmented reality (AR) and two desktop computing based implementations, one where players communicate using speech and the other using typed keyboard input. Through interviews and observations of players, we find that immersive AR can create an increased sense of presence, confirming generally held expectations. However, we demonstrate that increased presence does not necessarily lead to more engagement. Rather, mediation may be necessary for some players to fully engage with certain interactive media experiences.
Conference Paper
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The growing popularity of augmented reality (AR) games in both a research and more recently commercial context has led for a need to take a closer look at design related issues which impact on player experience. While issues relating to this area have been considered, to date most of the emphasis has been on the technology aspects. Furthermore it is almost always assumed that the augmented reality element in itself will provide a sufficient experience for the player. This has led to a need to evaluate what makes a successful augmented reality game. In this paper we present a set of design guidelines which are drawn from experiences of three mixed reality games. The guidelines provide specific guidance on relationships between real and virtual space, social interaction, use of AR technologies, maintaining consistent themes and implicitly address higher level aspects such as presence within a particular augmented reality place.
Player enjoyment is perhaps the most important issue in successful game design, but so far it has not been addressed in the area of pervasive games. Departing from the general gameflow model, this article presents an initial outline for a new model of pervasive player enjoyment, that is, the pervasive gameflow model, which is described and discussed in terms of additions and elaborations to the general gameflow model. It is intended to serve as a departure point for further empirical studies on player enjoyment in pervasive games.