The fusion of augmented reality and the physical world

New technologies constantly transform and reshape the world, including the way we interact with physical space and other people. Our research team was interested in studying the convergence between the physical and the augmented. We wanted to understand how AR technologies influence users’ perceptions and how the presence of the digital world changes users’ behavior in the physical space.

To this end we directed our focus towards location-based augmented reality (AR) games, which overlay a digital reality on top of the physical world. We conducted an interview study with players of four location-based games: Pokémon GO, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, The Walking Dead: Our World and Orna. We used a thematic clustering approach to analyze the data.

Perceptions about AR

The mobile device camera see-through AR mechanics are perhaps the most striking feature that differentiates AR games from other digital games. For this reason, it was interesting that in our data, the AR features seemed to lose their relevance for players over time. This is also reflected in the game design of popular AR games, where the see-through AR features are made optional. Instead of AR features, the map interface of the games acts as a crucial connection between the game and the physical world.

When we use a navigation software to find a restaurant or a gas station, we accept the map to be an accurate description of reality – and (almost) blindly trust the guidance of the software. We have learned that it works. In a similar way, location-based AR game players accept the game’s map interface to correspond to the real world, and whatever is placed on the map interface is integrated into their perception of reality. This gives some insight of what the future of AR could be like. It is not enough to inject detached digital content to the real world, but the augmented world has to have its own internal logic and structure with tangible interfaces with reality.

Convergence between the real and the augmented

AR technology is advancing at both the level of hardware and software. The technology is the enabler, but the real challenge in AR will be to seamlessly integrate the solutions with the physical world. Even big budget AR games have not turned out to be commercial successes possibly regardless of the expected emergent novel gameplay they enable. The most notable example being Minecraft Earth, which was shut down less than two years after its release.

While undoubtedly many AR designers feel like Tony Stark’s dad Howard Stark in the movie Iron Man 2: “I am limited by the technology of my time”, we argue that the most pressing issue in AR game design is resolving the integration between the game with the physical world. In this endeavour, a virtual representation of reality is crucial. Hence, a promising direction to focus is on creating alternative visualizations of the world.

Convergence Between the Real and the Augmented: Experiences and Perceptions in Location-based Games

Samuli Laato

Nobufumi Inaba

Juho Hamari

Reference: Laato, S., Inaba, N., & Hamari, J. (2021). Convergence Between the Real and the Augmented: Experiences and Perceptions in Location-based Games. Telematics and Informatics, 101716. DOI:

See the paper for full details:




Location-based augmented reality (AR) games have recently become massively popular, generating billions of dollars in revenue during the past five years. These games augment geographical areas with playful content, which makes the playing experience dependent on both the game and the playing location. Existing games have employed various methods for increasing the connection between the game and the physical world, such as (1) an AR mode that lets players see virtual objects in the physical world through the lens of their mobile device; and (2) connecting the game’s virtual points of interest (PoIs) to physical world objects. To explore how these influence the playing experience, we surveyed players (N = 74) across four popular location-based AR games. We analyzed the data using a thematic clustering approach, which resulted in five central themes. Among our findings was that only 7% of the surveyed players regularly used or appreciated AR features that made use of the mobile device’s camera. The most often given reason for this was that they slow down progression. By contrast, players appreciated location-based features and the augmentation of digital content on a map interface. Connecting the virtual content to physical world objects was seen to have the benefits of (1) supporting social meetings; (2) enabling learning about the real world; and (3) increasing the meaningfulness of the virtual content.

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