Getting Healthy by Catching Them All: A Study on the Relationship between Player Orientations and Perceived Health Benefits in an Augmented Reality Game

Augmented Reality (AR) refers to the interactive coexistence of computer generated assets within the physical reality [4]. Such coexistence creates a unique opportunity in video games scenery, especially by altering the traditional way of playing video games. One of the earliest examples of the mobile AR games was ARQuake [76], a Quake-like first person shooter game played with a handheld controller and a head mount display both indoors and outdoors. However, to make this possible, players had to carry around the entire system which weighs approximately 16kg. As the technology has advanced, AR games have become more mobile which has enabled their commercialization and widespread popularity. Today, we are able to play AR games with the comfort of our smartphones.

One of the most prominent examples of these advancements is Pokémon Go. Launched in the US on July 6 2016, Pokémon Go is a mobile game based on a Japanese transmedia franchise and built on a pre-existing mobile game platform by Niantic, Inc. During the first two months of its launch, the game was downloaded more than 500 million times [73]. That year, Pokémon Go won the titles of “best mobile/handheld game”, as well as “best family game” [75]. Early statistics by Niantic Labs state that since the launch of the game, Pokémon Go players have collectively walked over 8.7 billion kilometers and caught 88 billion Pokémons [47]. The popularity of Pokémon Go is also evident in the fact that the term “Pokémon Go” was the leading search term in the recently published Google search trends 2016 [17]. Beyond being a Location-Based Game (LBG), Pokémon Go and others like it can also be classified as Augmented Reality Games (ARGs), games that are particularly focused on overlaying digital content onto everyday surroundings. Common to these games and activities is that they create hybrid spaces that challenge the dichotomy of the physical and the digital; spaces that “merge the physical and the digital in a social environment created by the mobility of users connected via mobile technology devices” [12].

While there has been a remarkable amount of research on players, player experiences and the gratifications they derive from games (e.g. [10][9][19][20][23][25][26][39][70][68][84]), as well as on player types and orientations [18][31][79][86], LBGs and ARGs are a novel and multifaceted development, not only in the games space, but also culturally. As such they can be seen to afford several kinds of experiences and gratifications for their users that are not necessarily found in more traditional forms of games or media, and especially not in such combinations. These include experiences such as outdoor adventures, communal activities and health benefits. Having recently broken through to a more mainstream audience with the success of Pokémon Go, these games and their players provide a culturally and historically opportune vector for closer study. All of these above-mentioned aspects prompt interesting and relevant research questions in the intersection of gaming and health; can LBGARGs promote healthy behaviors and what kinds of players may be more susceptible to derive these health outcomes.

With this spanning of physical and spatial boundaries in the field of play of LBGs, players are required to move their physical bodies considerable distances in order to play the game. In fact, exercise is not only considered a byproduct of playing LBGs/ARGs, but for many, a chief reason to start playing. For the individual health promotion all the above mentioned game mechanics have been a matter of focus in the domain of serious games studies [16][42]. As noted by O’Hara [49] in Geocaching, the primary motivation for playing was not necessarily achieving the objectives set by the activity, but rather participation in the activity itself. Pokémon Go uses game mechanics and achievements to incentivize walking outdoors and covering relatively long distances. Recent evidence indicate that novel gaming concepts such as Pokémon Go can lead to elevated physical activity [67][30][37]. In the context of the current study, the concept of outdoor activity not only addresses physical activity but also includes other linked activities including meeting friends and engaging in social activities outdoors, as well as visiting and exploring new places.

Therefore, in this study we investigate what kinds of players (achievement, immersion or social – orientation) are more likely to perceive health benefits (mental, physical and social health outcomes) from playing augmented reality games. We employ online survey data gathered among players of Pokémon Go (N=1190).


Getting Healthy by Catching Them All: A Study on the Relationship between Player Orientations and Perceived Health Benefits in an Augmented Reality

Jonna Koivisto

Aqdas Malik

Bahadir Gürer Gürkan

Juho Hamari

Citation: Koivisto, J., Malik, A., Gurkan, B., & Hamari, J. (2019, January). Getting Healthy by Catching Them All: A Study on the Relationship between Player Orientations and Perceived Health Benefits in an Augmented Reality Game. In Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. DOI:10.24251/hicss.2019.216

Please see the paper for full details: 

Conference repository 




In recent years, location-based augmented reality games such as Pokémon Go have become increasingly popular. These games not only afford a novel gaming experience, but also have the potential to alter how players view their physical realities and alter the dynamics of traditional game play from its sedentary nature towards a more physical one. In this paper we investigate what kinds of players (achievement, immersion or social interaction -oriented) are more likely to derive health benefits from playing augmented reality games. We employ online survey data gathered among players of Pokémon Go (N=1190). The results show that playing location-based augmented reality games has a positive association with perceived mental, physical and social health outcomes overall. The results also suggest that the way in which players approach the game and what kinds of aspects of the game they emphasize can have a differential dynamic on how the health benefits of the game manifest. Results show that social gaming orientation is positively associated with physical, mental and social health outcomes, whereas achievement and immersion orientations are associated with physical and mental health outcomes.



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