Engaging with Place through Location-Based Games: Navigation and Narrative in Game Design and Play Experiences

Jack Lowe

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines how people engage with place through location-based games. Location-based games are those that incorporate the player’s physical location and/or actions into the gameplay through media interfaces. Despite growing in popularity over the past two decades, there is an absence of fine-grained ethnographic research into everyday practices and emplaced experiences of location-based game design and play. The contributions of this thesis are built upon three years of practice-based, autoethnographic participation in developing location-based games, alongside ethnographic observation, interviews and focus groups with creative collaborators and players. Its findings unpack how engagement with place unfolds through the design and play of location-based games and the implications of these processes for how we understand place as a concept today. In doing so, it builds upon scholarship concerning locative and mobile media, interfaces, play, digital narratives, games and philosophies of place.

These insights are presented through a thematic focus on three sets of considerations about place negotiated during the development and play of location-based games: the multiplicity of elements that gather in places; the contingent, everyday interactions that occur in places; and the impressions of place people perceive. Analysing how these considerations are negotiated, this thesis identifies how engagement with place through location-based games is underpinned by interrelationships between navigation and narrative. Understood as uneven, performative and intersubjective relations, they shape the accessibility and legibility of the diverse elements that gather in places; players’ attention toward the processes through which these elements interact in everyday contexts; and the co-production of complex, dynamic and extroverted impressions of place by players. At a time when ‘place’ as a concept has been unsettled by large-scale processes of globalisation and digitisation, these empirical and theoretical contributions create new openings for understanding how digital, locative, mobile and playful media are implicated in everyday experiences of being-in-the-world.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Crang, Philip, Supervisor
  • Wright, Richard, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • location-based games
  • place
  • navigation
  • narrative
  • game design
  • play
  • digital
  • games
  • gaming
  • interface
  • storytelling
  • locative media
  • mobile media
  • digital media
  • practice-based research
  • creative practice
  • geography
  • iterative
  • design
  • collaboration
  • affordances
  • attunement
  • entanglement
  • assemblage
  • intersubjectivity
  • media
  • autoethnography
  • experimental
  • experimental games
  • location
  • interactive digital narratives
  • multiplicity
  • contingency
  • sense of place
  • being-in-the-world
  • digital games

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