Platforming place narratives with location-based games: playful and participatory storytelling using What3Words

Jack Lowe

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


Since GPS became publicly available in 2000, the widening range and pervasiveness of locative media’s everyday usage has arguably been reprogramming our relationships with the places we inhabit. Utilising these technologies for playful purposes, location-based games are those whose gameplay progresses in physical settings, while being supported by an architecture of digital services and platforms for finding and sharing information, identifying locations and social interaction. Despite their increasing popularity and prevalence, there has been limited academic inquiry into how the design and play of location-based games might shape engagement with the ecology of narratives through which places become meaningful to us. Addressing this question, this presentation draws on findings from testing a location-based game called Canterbury in 3 Words, which I developed as part of my practice-based PhD project. This game 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. Examining insights from ethnographic observation and interviews with Canterbury in 3 Words participants, this presentation will consider the possibilities and challenges of location-based games for provoking engagement with place narratives. In particular, 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 publication20 Years of Seeing with GPS
Subtitle of host publicationPerspectives and Future Directions
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 Jun 2020
Event20 Years of Seeing with GPS: Perspectives and Future Directions - Department of Digital Humanities, Kings College London
Duration: 12 Jun 2020 → …


Conference20 Years of Seeing with GPS: Perspectives and Future Directions
Period12/06/20 → …

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