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Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players

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Department of Future Technologies, University of Turku, 20540 Turku, Finland
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Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, 93187 Skellefteå, Sweden
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Multimodal Technologies Interact. 2020, 4(2), 29; https://doi.org/10.3390/mti4020029
Received: 6 April 2020 / Revised: 7 June 2020 / Accepted: 12 June 2020 / Published: 17 June 2020
In early 2020, as a countermeasure to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments issued limitations on the movements of their citizens, cancelling social events and advising people to stay home. As location-based games (LBGs) have been found to influence human movement, their role during COVID-19 deserves closer inspection. Under regular circumstances, the very aim of these games is to motivate people to go out, explore and meet other people. However, during COVID-19, people were advised to do the exact opposite. To study how LBG developers and players reacted to the situation, we used the netnography research method utilizing three types of data: (1) COVID-19 related in-game changes made by seven popular LBG developers during March 2020; (2) social media reactions on 20 posts across three popular Pokémon GO subreddits; and (3) the raiding activity (collaborative play) in Pokémon GO in a Finnish municipality during February–May 2020. All observed LBGs made in-game changes due to COVID-19. The social media reactions showed overwhelming appreciation towards these changes, and two central second order themes arose: (1) LBGs have the ability to influence human movement during pandemics; and (2) people should be able to self-regulate their behaviour during COVID-19 independent of LBG influence. Surprisingly, recorded Pokémon GO player activity in Finland was more influenced by offered in-game rewards than the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings have implications on how games and gamification can be used to direct human movement in situations such as COVID-19 where population-level interventions are needed. View Full-Text
Keywords: COVID-19; Pokémon GO; behaviour; pandemic; location-based games; hybrid-reality games; social media; gamification COVID-19; Pokémon GO; behaviour; pandemic; location-based games; hybrid-reality games; social media; gamification
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Laato, S.; Laine, T.H.; Islam, A.N. Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players. Multimodal Technologies Interact. 2020, 4, 29.

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