Location-based games as platforms for site-specific storytelling

Jack Lowe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


From the GPS treasure-hunting game Geocaching, which began in 2000, to the overwhelming popularity of recent titles like Pokémon Go, the prevalence of location-based games as a digital media artform has grown significantly over the past two decades. When it comes to site-specific storytelling, however, artists are still only beginning to investigate the potential of location-based games for engaging with the wide-ranging narratives through which places become meaningful to us. This is a question I am addressing in the making of Canterbury in 3 Words, a game I developed as part of my practice-based PhD project and launched publicly in April. This work utilises the geolocation service and app What3Words, which divides the world’s surface into 3-metre squares, each of which is allocated a unique 3-word address. In Canterbury in 3 Words, players are challenged to share stories about locations in Canterbury as texts which include each word of their 3-word addresses, alongside a photograph clue. These can be personal accounts, fiction, historic events, or other kinds of stories. Taking the format of a digital treasure hunt, other players can then view these texts and photographs, and attempt to identify the locations they refer to using the What3Words app. This presentation will use gameplay observations, examples of shared stories and interviews with participants to consider the opportunities and challenges that Canterbury in 3 Words and location-based games in general present for engaging with diverse stories of places, particularly in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. It will explore this medium’s potential for reconfiguring top-down, instrumental applications of locative media, discussing how they might be playfully reimagined through practices of game design and play as platforms for participatory and collective storytelling.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCanterbury Arts E-Conference 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 15 Jul 2020

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