A Social Augmented Reality Serious Game
Daniel Rapp, Jonas M¨
uller, Kristina Bucher and Sebastian von Mammen
University of W¨
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
Abstract—The release of Pok´
emon GO attracted a huge player
base ranging from children to adults, thereby establishing aug-
mented reality (AR) on the mass market. In this paper, we
present Pathomon, a social AR serious game which combines
the location-based game mechanics of Pok´
emon GO with the
beneﬁts of using AR in a serious context. We describe the
concept of the game which is based on cooperatively scanning
QR codes, enabling the players to work together towards their
common goal of eradicating viruses in their environment, while
at the same time acquiring knowledge about these viruses.
Furthermore, we present a ﬁrst user study suggesting favorable
results with respect to game experience, yet indicating room
for improvement concerning the social game aspects. Finally,
we outline the opportunity of the game to serve as a starting
point for the development of a more versatile social AR platform
capable of including arbitrary contents beyond the context of
Index Terms—Educational technology, Mobile learning, Mobile
applications, Augmented reality, Games, Biological information
theory, Information sharing.
The release of the 2016 blockbuster title Pok´
granted its developing company Niantic an unprecedented
success. Due to the popularity of its brand, the game was
downloaded more than 30 million times within the ﬁrst two
weeks after its release . Along with that, it targets a
huge and diverse audience ranging from children to adults
alike . Furthermore, by making use of location-based AR,
emon GO represents the ﬁrst game to have popularised this
technology among global mainstream .
In this paper, we present Pathomon, a serious game which
emon GO’s main game mechanics into the
serious context of infectious diseases. Following the basic
concept of Pok´
emon GO, three main reasons lead to selecting
the domain of virus transmission as context of the game: First,
education in the ﬁeld of contagious diseases is a fundamen-
tal prerequisite to reduce their spreading . Second, since
Pathomon targets the same diverse audience as Pok´
we wanted to pick a domain which children and adults can
be educated on alike. Third, the location-based structure and
mechanics of Pok´
emon GO qualify excellently for adaptation
in the serious context of diseases, mimicking the ubiquitous
and path-dependent characteristics of virus transmission.
Furthermore, like Pok´
emon GO, our game Pathomon also
emphasises the social aspect between players by encouraging
and rewarding collaboration in different ways. Accordingly,
the contribution of our work is two-fold: On the one hand,
we have transposed the Pok´
emon GO game mechanics to a
serious, educative context. On the other hand, this work paves
the way for developing a general set of game mechanics and
linking them to serious contents beyond our target domain.
In the following section, we will give a brief overview
on related work concerning the usage of AR in learning
environments. In section III, we present Pathomon’s concept
and functionality in further detail and discuss the results of a
user study. Eventually, we conclude with a summary and give
an outlook on future work in section IV.
II. RE LATE D WOR K
The use of AR provides several affordances for educational
purposes in comparison to non-AR environments. According
to , AR provides the possibility of (1) presenting learning
content as three-dimensional representation, (2) ubiquitous,
collaborative and situated learning, (3) the invocation of the
learners’ senses of presence, immediacy and immersion, (4)
visualising the invisible and (5) bridging formal and informal
learning. As summarised in , these affordances can lead po-
tential advantages like (1) better learning of spatial structures
among various domains (e.g. astronomy , chemistry  or
anatomy ), (2) higher long-term memory retention as well
as (3) improved collaboration and motivation. These ﬁndings
portray the usage of AR technology as a promising opportunity
to convey knowledge in an effective and collaborative way.
Aside from this, studies suggest that it could be beneﬁcial
to integrate education within the learner’s lifeworld, e.g. by
incorporating learning into everyday life, and thus making
the learned content more authentic and applicable . To
achieve this, the use of games for learning tasks appears to
be a suitable way . Therefore, combining the beneﬁts of
AR technology with gamiﬁed environments which refer to
the player’s lifeworld seems like a promising approach for
education. An example for the integration of such a game-
based approach into everyday life is the 2007 AR game
Outbreak @ The Institute . The game put students in
different roles in which they had to prevent the spread of
an infectious disease. However, as the hard- and software of
handheld devices was still limited at that time, the use of AR
was limited to location-based information and did not include
augmenting the real world with real-time virtual 3D models.
Fig. 1. Game Procedures of Pathomon, showing the repeatable game loop
Apart from these positive aspects, there are also problems
associated with AR learning: Learners might experience issues
with the technology in use . Moreover, the use of AR
can lead to attentional tunneling or cognitive overload .
According to , users might also “lose sight of where the
game ends and reality begins”. These shortcomings have to be
carefully considered when creating an AR learning experience.
III. MET HO DO LO GY
As outlined in the previous section, new forms of tech-
nology, especially AR, might improve learning environments.
However, such systems are yet to be fully established. Path-
omon aims at transforming information into a system using
the discussed beneﬁts of AR and gamiﬁcation.
1) Story: Pathomon takes the real world and the real issues
of spreading diseases and transforms it into a journey: players
dive into the role of young scientists and have to ﬁght viruses.
In order to do that, the players soon realize that they have to
ﬁnd the right ingredients to craft antidotes that are then used
to eradicate the viruses. However, killing them at one (real-
world) location does not completely erease them. Players need
to team up with others to share knowledge and ﬁght stronger
viruses in the hope of ﬁnally erasing them completely.
2) Game Procedures: The game procedures are depicted
in Figure 1. Players ﬁrst have to ﬁnd QR codes which can
be located within the play area. The player will be presented
an AR real-time virtual animation of either a virus or an
ingredient after scanning a code. By collecting ingredients and
subsequently crafting (Figure 3) antidotes, players can attack
the viruses and earn experience points (XP). Some highly
resistant viruses make it necessary for players to team up with
others in order to ﬁght them. Other ways of social engagement
are sharing knowledge about QR code, and hence, antidote and
virus locations. Finally, progress is tracked and summed over
all players, leading to the uniting aim to eradicate all viruses.
3) Mechanics: First, players create their personal account
(Figure 2). Then, they obtain a proﬁle which designates them
as expert for one particular virus (Figure 3). Due to the prox-
imity to a viral specimen, the player has the possibility to leave
the virus with QR codes he interacts with, forcing subsequent
Fig. 2. Login (left), Pathodex (center) and AR view (right)
Fig. 3. Proﬁle (left), Inventory (center) and Crafting (right)
players to attack them. Progress is achieved through various
game mechanics: First, players earn XP that transform into
levels (Figure 3). Higher levels allow the crafting of new an-
tidotes and therefore to ﬁght higher-level viruses. Players can
also compare themselves on a score ladder, which is accessible
through their in-game proﬁle. Additionally, achievements can
be earned. Concerning the viruses, each player is decorated
with a personal success rate in their Pathodex, a collection of
viruses this player has fought so far (Figure 2). Players earn
progress and unlock information about defeated viruses and
thereby increase their rates. Additionally, all players share a
global rate. This leads to the fact that the whole player base
is working together to eradicate viruses by fulﬁlling personal
rates in order to take the global rate to its maximum.
The main interactions in the game are collecting, crafting
and ﬁghting. Players can scan QR codes to ﬁnd ingredients,
which are then stored in their inventory (Figure 3). They can
cooperate by sharing their knowledge about the locations of
the codes. In the next step, players combine ingredients into
antidotes using the crafting option (Figure 3). They need to
discover the right combinations ﬁrst or ask other players about
them. Finally, players ﬁght viruses by using antidotes in the
AR view (Figure 2). Resistant viruses can only be killed by
coordinating attacks with other players.
4) Conveying Knowledge: Three different strategies are
used to convey knowledge about viruses within Pathomon:
First, each virus contains facts that can be unlocked and are
explicitly attached to those viruses. This textual information
includes size, time of discovery, lethality, type of vaccination,
symptoms, incubation time, method of transmission and out-
breaks. Some “fun facts” like “swine ﬂue is not transmitted
by swines” are also stated. Second, players learn about the
appearance of the viruses, since models with realistic shapes
are used. Third, the game mechanics implicitly relate to the
characteristics of viruses, like players who can spread (drop)
them (onto QR codes).
All in all, the game closely bridges between its knowl-
edge information and game mechanics, since “speciﬁc game
mechanics require gaming skills which are then mapped to
general physiological as well as cognitive and social human
skills” , allowing players to learn this knowledge in an
Unity3D was used for development in order to achieve
multi-platform support. For the AR aspects of the game, the
Kudan framework was used. The server-side implementation
and API was hosted on an Amazon AWS EC2 instance at-
tached to an Amazon AWS RDS database instance. Pathomon
was published both on iOS and Android.
C. User Study
Pathomon was ﬁrst played and evaluated at the 2017 Inter-
national Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Conference
in Boston, MA. By the end of the conference, 162 players
had downloaded and tried out the game. We conducted a user
study with a subset of these players to evaluate on the general
game experience. Due to the social features of the game, the
extent of social involvement with respect to other players was
examined as well. However, this study should not be seen as
a summative evaluation since other important aspects, like the
effectiveness of learning, have not been tested yet.
1) Participants: By the end of the conference, players were
selected at random and asked to take part in the study. How-
ever, only data of players that had gained XP were analysed
in order to make sure they had at least some experience with
the game. A total of 23 people participated, of which 10 were
female, 9 were male and 4 did not state their gender. All of
the subjects were attendees of the 2017 iGEM Competition and
thus came from a variety of different countries. On average, the
participants were 22.00 years old (SD = 1.98). The subjects
stated that they had played the game for 44.47 minutes on
average (SD = 27.10 minutes).
2) Instruments: For quantitative data collection, two mod-
ules of the Game Experience Questionnaire (GEQ)  were
used. (1) The Ingame Questionnaire allowed us to raise data
about experience components such as immersion or challenge.
(2) By means of the Social Presence Module, we examined
the psychological and behavioural involvement during the
game. Answers were collected in an online questionnaire
with a 5-point Likert scale (ranging from 0 (not at all) to
4 (extremely)). The participants were also asked to express
open coded qualitative feedback. Finally, additional qualitative
feedback was provided by the iGEM competition’s judges via
the iGEM website .
3) Procedure: At the beginning of the conference, the
required QR codes were distributed at the conference venue.
Simultaneously, the game was promoted to the participating
teams by approaching them at their exhibition booths and
asking them to try it out with their private smartphone during
the conference days. Playing took mostly place during poster
sessions and was not monitored. At the end of the confer-
ence, players were approached again at random and asked to
take part in the study. The participants ﬁlled out the online
questionnaires using their smartphones.
4) Results: The results of the Ingame Questionnaire can
be found in table I. The components ‘Sensory and Imaginative
Immersion’, ‘Positive Affect’ as well as ‘Competence’ showed
relatively high values, whereas the game does not seem to
evoke negative affects or tension. The components ‘Flow’ and
‘Challenge’ are on a moderate level.
RES ULTS GEQ Ingame Questionnaire
Component n M SD
Sensory and Imaginative Immersion 22 3.07 1.00
Flow 19 1.95 1.19
Competence 20 2.51 1.11
Positive Affect 18 2.90 0.89
Negative Affect 21 0.70 1.09
Tension 19 0.86 0.89
Challenge 22 2.29 1.09
The results for the Social Presence Module are depicted
in table II. Players experienced empathy on a moderate level
and did not have many negative feelings towards others. The
relatively low value of ‘Behavioural Involvement’ indicates
that they experienced only little to moderate inﬂuence of their
actions on the actions of the others.
RES ULTS GEQ Social Presence Module
Component n M SD
Psychological Involvement – Empathy 17 2.28 1.10
Psychological Involvement – Negative Feelings 18 1.60 1.46
Behavioural Involvement 20 1.55 1.28
The qualitative feedback contained several positive state-
ments, but also a couple of critical mentions. Among these
were technical issues, especially with the Android version.
The latter seemed to have a less stable performance compared
to the iOS version. In addition, the participants of the game
provided suggestions to improve the game concept as well.
Some players for example perceived the start and progress
of the game as too hard. The judges’ qualitative feedback
was very positive, stating i.a. the “AR game Pathomon is a
wonderful way to engage others”.
5) Discussion: The results of the Ingame Questionnaire
are quite favorable as the game seems to evoke feelings
of immersion and positive affects while not being tension-
ing or bringing out negative emotions. The high values for
‘Competence’ however contradict the qualitative expressions
stating that the start of the game was too hard. A possible
explanation for this is that the players felt competent with
respect to understanding the game controls and rules, but
were overwhelmed by the difﬁculty in the initial phase of
the game. Additionally, the players did not have the feeling
that their actions would inﬂuence the actions of the others
in a considerable way according to the the low values for
Behavioural Involvement’. An explanation for this could be
that the players might have focused on their own progress,
thereby overlooking their inﬂuence on the others. It should
therefore be investigated in what way a better perception of
this impact can be evoked in order to strengthen the game’s
Aside from this, it must be noted, that the study itself is
subject to a couple of limitations as well. First and foremost,
it only considered the experience of the player during the
game. An evaluation of the effectiveness of the game for
learning about viruses has not been conducted yet. Second,
neither the game-playing nor the collection of the data could
be done in a uniform way under laboratory conditions due to
the circumstances at the conference. This might have led to
undesired deﬂections. Third, the number of participants was
relatively low. For more reliable results, a follow-up study with
a larger number of participants should be carried out.
This paper presented the mobile social AR serious game
Pathomon. An analysis of related work focusing on the usage
of AR within the context of learning deems this technology as
a promising approach. Concordantly, Pok´
emon GO used this
technology effectively to attract a huge player base.
Pathomon resembles a combination of the location-based
game mechanics of Pok´
emon GO with scientiﬁc knowledge
about viruses. By grouping up, players can help each other
with sharing QR code locations, ﬁghting together against
very resistant viruses and work towards the common goal of
eradicating all viruses.
A ﬁrst user study conducted at the 2017 iGEM conference,
revealed several positive aspects of the game as well as
suggestions for improvement. These include, for example, the
wish for a smoother and easier progress in the game.
While knowledge about viruses is a good start, the game
mechanics developed in this paper could be used in various
other contexts, as long as well-deﬁned, localised interactions
between the AR contents and the player can be established.
With respect to Pok´
emon GO and Pathomon, these interactions
are, for instance, ﬁnding, collecting, ﬁghting, crafting, and
spreading. More systematically speaking, it makes sense to
provide game mechanics that contribute to a socially and spa-
tially distributed game setting that involves local interactions,
combination and transport. Therefore, a possible step in the
future might be the further development of the game towards a
versatile platform whose content for learning can be exchanged
The authors would like to thank the 2017 iGEM Team
Franconia and especially the W¨
urzburg fraction for their great
support and the great project experience. They also express
special thanks to Andreas Knote who always helped with all
sorts of technical difﬁculties.
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