“That’s not a secure area”– physical-digital sound links in commercial locative games

Inger Ekman


Pervasive games break the boundary between digital and physical to make use of elements in the real world as part of the game. One form of pervasive games are locative mobile games, which utilize physical movement as game control. To facilitate eyes-free interaction during play, these games benefit from exploring sound-based content. However, it is currently unclear what type of sound-based interaction is feasible to the general audience. Another consideration is which sound design strategies best support the goal of situated experiences, and how to design sound that supports game experiences drawing upon location-awareness, and intermixing virtual content with physical reality.
A first generation of locative mobile games is already commercially available. The present contribution analyzes seven commercially available locative games (Ingress; Shadow Cities; Zombies, Run!; Inception the App; The Dark Knight Rises Z+; CodeRunner) and summarizes the sound design strategies employed to contextualize game content in real-world. Comparison to current themes in contextualized audio research indicates similarities but also challenges some assumptions regarding audio-heavy gameplay. The findings illustrate the need for simplicity regarding audio challenges, but generally confirm the view of audio-based gameplay as a facilitator of mobility. Sound is also centrally involved in shaping contextualized experiences, forging links between the physical and digital world, and indexing game content to context through functionality, verbal references, spatialization, and remediation. The article discusses two complementary strategies to systematically manipulate the physical-digital relationship, and to promote strongly situated experiences.


Game sound, audio, sound design, locative games, pervasive games, mobile context, contextual experience, situated experience, indexicality.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.26503/todigra.v1i3.27
Published by the Digital Games Research Association.