What is a locative game?

Someone walks with a cellphone in hand, raising eyes from a quest every so often to check on their progress through the virtual and real worlds. How is this person merging reality and play?

Researchers have been asking themselves this question for over twenty years. Since smartphones came on the scene, and global positioning systems (GPS) allowed these pocket computers to map and track our movements in realtime, location-based gaming has been gaining traction. Locative games, or location-based games, are nothing more than games in which gameplay is tied to — and progresses within — a specific location.

By mixing virtual elements with physical spaces into an experience of augmented reality, locative games allow players to interact with their environment and engage in narratives and stories that go well beyond traditional screen-based gaming. Ingress (2012) and Pokémon Go (2016) are both examples of locative games that exploded onto the gaming scene in the past decade, gaining a massive following. From collecting adorable little creatures with special powers to fighting foes, locative games are all about exploration, strategy and puzzle-solving.

Locative games aren’t only about fun though. By encouraging physical activity, social interaction and a sense of community, these games may bring with them a potential set of health and social benefits. One other socially relevant potential that locative games make possible is the contextualisation of items with problematic histories — a monument, the site of a battle or a simple statue, for instance — as these digital tools allow players to interact with additional information “layered on top of” a real environment via their phone’s camera and screen.

LoGaCulture is doing many of these things, exploring the potential of locative games to further engage varied audiences with the cultural and natural heritage of our beloved Europe. Either for ludic or more educational uses, locative games are here to stay.

Further resources and literature:

• Reconciling immersion and presence: Locative game mechanics and narrative techniques for cultural heritage (Mads Haahr, 2017)

• Location Based Games and the People Who Play Them (John Dunham, 2021)