2.1. How Location-Based Games Influence Behaviour
Upon looking at the extant literature on behavioural consequences of playing LBGs, a few trends can be identified. First, LBGs typically increase physical activity [2
] and reduce sedentary behaviour [17
], based on some studies even permanently outside the gaming context [18
]. Second, LBGs have implications on social well-being [1
], increasing players’ altruistic behaviour and we-intentions [20
]. Third, playing LBGs impacts real-world movement patterns and propensity [10
]. Finally, despite some reports suggesting that playing LBGs might cause players to adopt unwanted behaviours [22
], empirical studies on the matter have shown these reports to not stand on firm ground [24
While Riar et al. [21
] found a correlation between engaging with cooperative game features and altruism, this finding can also be explained by the fact that, in Ingress, players face a strong opposing force, other human players, making cooperation necessary for individual and the team’s success [25
]. Furthermore, LBG teams have been shown to impact players’ language adaption [25
], proving the impact of social influence on player behaviour. In fact, Ewell et al. argue that the main benefit of LBGs is social-well being rather than physical exercise [1
], unlike some early studies on Pokémon GO suggested [13
]. Based on these findings, it is evident that social identity [26
] plays a role in determining players’ actions in addition to individual goals, and understanding the impact of social influence [27
] will result in a more complete understanding of how players react to global pandemics.
The extant literature on behavioural consequences of LBGs is summarized in Table 1
. While information systems journal publications favor including defined theoretical frameworks, many of the studies are published in other journals, for example medical journals, which do not emphasize theory to an equal degree. Another noticeable phenomenon is the over-representation of Pokémon GO among the observed games. While this can hurt the generalizability of the results to cover all LBGs, it does make comparing studies together easier as the studied game-context is the same in nearly all cases. Finally, while the behavioural consequences of LBGs have been studied as such, behavioural changes due to unprecedented online or offline events is yet to be explored. The COVID-19 pandemic offers us an opportunity to study this and gain insight into understanding human behaviour in this context.
LBGs can have both positive and negative impacts on players during pandemics. during COVID-19, in countries where moving outside was allowed, LBGs could still motivate exercise and provide players with a healthy and fun outdoor activity that had the potential to alleviate some of the potential psychological and physical issues, such as cyberchondria [4
] or obesity [28
], which may arise from spending too much time stationary and in isolation at home. On the other hand, as LBGs such as Pokémon GO motivate people to gather physically together [29
], and increase pedestrian traffic in large cities, there exists the danger that the games increase social contact, and thus, unintentionally contribute to the spread of the pandemic disease. A recent study on human behaviour during COVID-19 found perceived severity of the situation and self-efficacy were found to predict adopting personal health measures, while response costs had a negative effect [4
]. This further emphasises the significance of LBGs’ potential to increase perceived barriers to adopt recommended health measures. However, while LBGs may be a major part of some people’s lives, they remain only one factor among many that impact human behaviour. In such a complex landscape, a wide perspective is needed to understand the situation.
2.2. Human Behaviour during Pandemics
Human behaviour during pandemics is affected by both internal and external factors. The internal factors refer to those constituting personal protection motivation [30
], while external factors in this context refer to government enforced measures such as quarantines and other environmental effects [31
]. The external and internal factors are linked, as humans better accept governmental restrictions in case they understand and agree with them [32
]. In order to keep citizens aware of the situation during pandemics, and allow them the benefit of information-based decision-making and rational action, information regarding the pandemic needs to be communicated clearly [33
]. Reducing uncertainty this way is paramount in motivating effective individual health behaviour whilst avoiding public panic [34
Protection–motivation theory (PMT) is perhaps the most widely used theory in explaining human behaviour during pandemics (e.g., [36
]). The theory decomposes individual level protection motivation into consisting of threat appraisal and coping appraisal constructs [39
]. Threat appraisal can be further divided into perceived severity, perceived vulnerability and anxiety, while coping appraisal is the sum of self-efficacy, response efficacy and response costs [37
]. Studies using PMT have shown perceived severity to be one of the key factors influencing behaviour change during pandemics, while response cost can alleviate this impact [4
]. In the current context of LBGs, the motivation that the games provide to break quarantine can be conceptualized to belong under coping appraisal, more precisely, in response costs. As players enjoy playing LBGs, they will inevitably feel they lose something in case they are forced to quit playing due to pandemic restrictions. Following this line of thought, the main concern about LBGs during pandemics according to PMT is that they increase players’ perceived response costs to adapt individual health measures, and thus reduce their protection motivation and encourage them to go out and play instead.
Besides PMT, another similar framework often used for explaining human behaviour in situations with a looming health threat is the health belief model (HBM) [36
]. While PMT is concerned about protection motivation and postulates it to be the result of threat and coping appraisal, HBM seeks to understand how health beliefs lead to action [40
]. Both models typically share the construct of perceived severity and susceptibility, but instead of seeing these as antecedents to protection motivation, HBM postulates them to be at the same level with health motivation [41
]. Perceived barriers, which can be seen to be closely linked to response costs in PMT, have been shown to be the most powerful dimension of HBM to explain human behaviour [40
]. In this study, we select PMT as a theoretical lens which we use to analyze the collected data and understand our findings over HBM primarily because of its recent popularity [36
] and because the coping appraisal constructs offer a well structured theoretical viewpoint.
2.3. Study Context: The COVID-19 Pandemic
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, causing the COVID-19 disease, was first detected in December 2019 in the Huabei region in China, particularly the city of Wuhan [42
]. The virus has been classified as highly infectious, with some estimates of its reproduction number being as high as 3.58 if no preventative measures are taken [43
]. With quarantines and travel bans, China was able to slow down the epidemic trajectory of the virus [44
], but during March 2020, the virus had already spread uncontrollably outside China, which lead to the World Health Organization declaring it a global pandemic on 11 March 2020 [6
In this study, we collect three datasets, one of them from Finnish Pokémon GO players. To this end, a brief explanation of the context of Finland during COVID-19 is needed. Finland is a northern European country that offered a suitable study case as at the start of the data collection period, February 2020, the country had still only a few confirmed cases of COVID-19 and zero confirmed deaths caused by the illness. After mid-March, when the pandemic situation escalated globally and the virus started spreading in Europe, the Finnish government issued the following restrictions to take place starting from 18 March onwards:
Face-to-face meetings of more than 10 people are forbidden.
People over the age of 70 or belonging to a risk group should self-isolate and stay at home.
School buildings are closed and schools must move to distance education. Libraries, hobby facilities, gyms and universities are closed as well, and most public events are cancelled.
Everyone arriving from abroad will need to immediately self-quarantine for two weeks.
Using public transportation is heavily discouraged.
Besides these restrictions, other more minor ones were issued as well. On 27 March, the Finnish government temporarily closed Uusimaa, the area surrounding its capital city Helsinki, due to a COVID-19 outbreak until 15 April. Furthermore, on 29 March, the Finnish government ordered all restaurants to close their doors with the exception of allowing them to serve take-away food. These restrictions were in place throughout April 2020 and, except for the reopening of Uusimaa, were all still in place on 12 May 2020 when the data collection period for social LBG playing in Finland ended.