Location-Based Games For Social Interaction In Public Space

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This thesis broadens current understanding of how location-based games can promote meaningful social interaction in citizens' own neighbourhoods. It investigates social cohesion and the role of social interaction to its promotion, delves into which requirements users have for playing in their neighbourhood and with its citizens, and takes a technical perspective into how this type of games should be designed to be successful at triggering interaction in public space. From this understanding, which stems from adolescents and adults from Rotterdam and The Hague, NL, a specific design and prototype of a location-based game is proposed and tested. This thesis addresses several gaps found in the current body of knowledge. On the one hand, meaningful interactions are person-dependent, can occur in various forms, and their impact on societies is not well understood. On the other hand, it is not well understood how to build location-based games for such aim: it is not known which requirements should be considered, attempts to build location-based games are often a product of in-house development not centred early on around users, no known guidelines exist for meaningful social interaction, and no consensus exists on what to consider when building location-based games from a technical perspective.

This thesis offers learnings on how to best design location-based games to promote interaction that matters to local communities. It firstly offers an overview of social cohesion and how multiple factors and actors have the power to influence local communities. It then argues that meaningful social interaction bears the power to break down stereotypes and prejudice, empowers people's agencies to act, has a positive impact on cohesion, emerges at people's own pace, and addresses conflict. From this, it dives into the preferences, needs and desires of adolescents and adults to better understand what sorts of interactions are meaningful to them. This thesis explores throughout several case studies the requirements that these target groups have, and advances gameplay dynamics and game activity types that location-based games should implement to be successful at inviting meaningful social interaction in public space. These case studies also research different sorts of interaction that each game activity type invites players to have, and elicit specific game ideas that are particularly tailored around perceived-to-be socially challenging neighbourhoods in The Netherlands. These case studies culminate in the recommendation of several guidelines to be used at different stages of the game design: gameplay requirements, guidelines for meaningful social interaction to occur in the studied groups, and the sorts of game activities that designers should include to invite specific forms of social interaction. This thesis also proposes a systems architecture with key architectural components, to drive consensus and inform on what to consider when building location-based games for this purpose from a technical perspective.

The lessons learned that are advanced in this thesis help practitioners design location-based games that are more tailored to what future players want to play, and help researchers understand what it means to design for meaningful social interaction in any public space around the world. Players have distinct preferences with regard to the ways they are exposed to their own neighbourhood, and the forms of interaction they would rather experience. Understanding this, and incorporating such preferences in game design, lead to gameplay experiences that can have a positive effect on societies, as they have the power to promote interaction and positive relationships in local communities. These gameplay experiences invite individuals to come together and have meaningful interactions in a playful way, (re)engage with their own neighbourhood, and be part of their local community.