Considerable literature (Bonetti et al., 2010; Penko & Barkley., 2010; Maddison et al., 2007; Walburton et al., 2007) has shown that exergames can bring about measurable benefits to physical and mental health, yet it also demonstrates how enforced or prescribed play can be viewed as a burden or chore (Madsen et al., 2007; Heeter et al., 2011), leading to either elimination of benefit from play or discontinuation. There is unfortunately, no one size fits all solution for how to design experiences that lead to players actively choosing to engage, yet there may be commonalities across genres, populations, and platforms that have yet to be discovered. This is particularly important in the here and now, as the societal disruption caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic renders many of the traditional avenues and approaches for promoting physical activity either inaccessible or unviable, with a significant portion of the population noting that they do not intend to return to business as usual even after things are "over."

In the course of my PhD training, I undertook a mixed-methods 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, examining their physical and mental well-being, the level of physical activity promoted by each game, and any barriers they encountered both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While analysis of the data collected is ongoing, some early results uncovered 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 whether they saw themselves on the hardcore/casual gamer spectrum. A significant positive relationship between hours of participation in gaming and total hours of exercise per week was also noted, suggesting that AR games continued to promote physical activity during the pandemic - and that they might be a viable pathway to continue to do so afterwards. 

Read more at:

Smith, J., Lee, M. D., Ellis, L. A., Ijaz, K., & Yin, K. (2021). Developing a novel psychographic-behavioral qualitative mapping method for exergames. International Journal of Serious Games, 8(2), 87 - 107.

Ellis, L. A., Lee, M. D., Ijaz, K., Smith, J., Braithwaite, J., & Yin, K. (2020). COVID-19 as 'Game Changer' for the Physical Activity and Mental Well-Being of Augmented Reality Game Players During the Pandemic: Mixed Methods Survey Study. Journal of medical Internet research, 22(12), e25117.

Lee, M. & Yin K (2018). When the mind moves freely, the body follows – Exergame design, evaluation, and the curious case of Pokémon GO. The Journal of Games, Society and Self, 1(1): 36-65.