Continuation Amidst Constraint: Factors Influencing Retention And Well-Being For Players Of Augmented Reality Games

Matthew David Lee, University of Pennsylvania


Literature (Bonetti et al., 2010; Penko & Barkley., 2010; Maddison et al., 2007; Walburton et al., 2007) suggests that exergames can bring about measurable benefits to physical and mental health, though enforced or prescribed play results in play becoming viewed as a burden or chore (Madsen et al., 2007; Heeter et al., 2011), leading to either elimination of benefit from play or discontinuation. The benefits of exergaming are thus contingent on players actively choosing to engage with them, yet there is little research on what drives players to engage, or whether those factors differ across varying populations. With societal changes from COVID-19 possibly rendering many of the traditional avenues and approaches for promoting physical activity either inaccessible or unviable, understanding this becomes critical. This dissertation seeks to addresses this through an investigation of the player bases of Pokémon GO (Niantic, 2016) and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite to expose the factors underlying their continued engagement, as well as players’ experiences of these factors affected any benefit they derived from play. Prior to COVID-19, a demographic questionnaire, physical activity measure, and open-ended proforma were administered to players via four subreddit forums dedicated to the exergames. A total of 1052 participants responded to this survey, with 762 (72%) having played PGO and 691 (66%) having played HPWU. A combination of demographic segmentation and psychographic mapping revealed a number of factors that either constrained or sustained engagement, with players’ experiences with the game and the extent to which factors were important differing based on how they classified themselves as gamers (hardcore, in-between, casual, or no idea). A second survey deployed during COVID-19 (demographic questionnaire, video game use, mental well-being scale, open-ended motivation questions) received responses from 2165 participants across 66 countries. A significant positive relationship between hours of participation in gaming and total hours of exercise per week was noted, coupled with a significant increase in the use of video games, suggesting that AR games continued to promote physical activity during the pandemic. Qualitative results supported this, with achievement, entertainment, exercise and social connection being prominent motivations. Implications for practice and research are discussed.