Leveraging Geolocation for Roleplaying Games


I just unlocked the Iron GM badge on GameSextant [1] and I’m about to become the Seneschal of the LFGS if I visit it again this week. Well, maybe if such a thing existed. If you’re a technophile with a smartphone, chances are you’ve heard of social geolocation sites/apps like Foursquare [2] or Gowalla. [3] These location-based mobile social networks allow you to announce what you’re doing and gain rewards for visiting new venues and many other behaviors.

While such social networks are not without peril when used by the unwary, [4] I think such little addictive apps like Foursquare could be quite useful in increasing participation in such things as organized play, hobby store shopping, conventions, or even private gaming groups.

What is Geolocation

According to Wikipedia, geolocation is the identification of the real-world geographic location of an Internet-connected computer, mobile device, website visitor or other. IP address geolocation data can include information such as country, region, city, postal/zip code, latitude, longitude and time zone.[5]

So basically, an mobile social network that utilizes geolocation will grab the address of a device (most likely a smartphone) using the device’s built in GPS or by surveying the local cell phone towers for a rough estimate. It then cross references that address with a database of local venues and allows the user to check-in. It then updates the user’s social network with relevant information.

Hobby Applications

Well, whenever someone checks into a venue, such as a convention, friendly local gaming store, or other gaming event, the app will broadcast a message saying as much across many social networks (or at least as many supported by the app and approved by the user). It’s free advertisement!

The killer part is people want to do this. I have found myself want to vigorously defend the mayorships I have earned at certain locations through FourSquare. It’s about bragging rights (meaningless, but bragging rights all the same). And venues can encourage such behavior by offering specials for people who have earned such trivial rewards. An example would be a monthly $5 award for the current mayor come the deadline.

Organized play societies could tie in with the network and offer free stuff to the most dedicated GMs and players. Exhibitors could make a game out of visiting certain booths and events at a convention. Private gaming groups now have a surefire method of figuring out who is immune to being the wipey bitch (what my group calls the guy that has to wipe off the battlemat and record initiative scores).

What Do You Think?

Is it too gimmicky? Do grognards even use smartphones, or do they still communicate via smoke signals and telegraph? What ways can you think of to utilize this technology within the realm of roleplaying games?

If you’re interesting in finding out more about how roleplaying games can use technology, check out my other articles on technology.


[1] GameSextant is my own conceptual version of a location-based mobile social network engineered specifically to enhance the gaming lifestyle. It does not actually exist (yet).

[2] Foursquare is a location-based mobile social network that allows you to check into locations found nearby utilizing the phone’s location awareness (via GPS or triangulation). Foursquare has awards called badges that can be earned by certain behaviors.

[3] Gowalla is an application very similar to Foursquare. [2]

[4] Please Rob Me was stunt website that aggregated everyone’s location-based messages. It highlighted how the unscrupulous could take advantage of such information to break into your home while you’re not there, or worse…

[5] Wikipedia’s Geolocation Entry.

Listening to: Black Light Burns – Cruel Melody – Cruel Melody

10 thoughts on “Leveraging Geolocation for Roleplaying Games

  1. I should note, that this article doesn’t even begin to cover the possibilities of actually implementing ARG style elements to a roleplaying game. I can imagine scenarios where players might need to travel to actual locations and “check-in” in order to advance the plot or find a geocache.

  2. This is an excellent extension of what we were blogging about back in January… me thinks some brainstorming are in order when you come to DC!

  3. From what I have heard, Disney is already doing something like this at their theme parks. There is a Kim Possible “game” where you get a rfid-enabled device that activates special locations around the park. The players go from location to location, following a pre-set story.

    For gamers, a really cool version would be one where there is a very lose story. As the players go to each location, a behind-the-scenes GM could be modifying the plot elements to fit what has happened, and there is the possibility of multiple outcomes/finales.

  4. There are several real world scavenger hunt type puzzle hunt games that do exist right now. Stanford & Seattle have an extremely difficult and renowned ones http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Game_%28treasure_hunt%29 . With the advent of geolocation and time/date stamping, Being able to measure progress, see team activity across a wide area, and coordinate progress is a very cool tool.

    Events like this that take place within Conventions or across locations can be an amazing and fun time.
    .-= Dr.NIk´s last blog ..sponng: @1ntelligence corp/3rd party recruiter discussions are: Always safe (you hit all audience) & a bit of an easy topic. Focus on new aspect? =-.

  5. @Jonathan: I got a feeling a couple of days in DC isn’t going to be enough.

    @Ed Wedig & Dr. NIk: Man, I’d love to explore the possibilities of integrating geolocation/geocaching with a Live Action RPG. Thanks for information!

  6. There were several types of puzzle hunt/scavenger hunt/booth bingo games that were very successful and popular at GenCon each year as well. I’ve done some mid and large scale LARP stuff, I think combining aspects of LARP & Geocache & Geolocation mobile/internet would be viable, exciting, and get positive interest. It’s a natural evolution of the proven and established form. So then the obvious next questions…

    Who’s gonna volunteer?
    Where & When we gonna run?
    What & how to be determined 🙂

  7. This is serious good stuff. Three ideas off the top of my head.

    * A supplier could set up a treasure trail so customers visit local game stores for clues to a collectible prize.
    * Re: LARP. You’d need a reason to have the smartphones involved (so modern/cyberpunk/sci-fi?). This lends itself very well to cyberpunk-style hacking runs.
    * Promote your game in a region by setting up a scavenger hunt. Those who complete it get in-game bennies.

    You get bonus points if you can persuade nearby businesses (bookshops, coffee shops, pubs, small cinemas) to join in. Taking advantage of a physical location and the need to achieve is a double-draw.

  8. @Dr.NIk: If I thought I had it in me to take on another project… though I might pass it on to some people who have the means and the motivation.

    @Satyre: Or the smartphones could be dressed as props… a crystal ball, the manifestation of a psychic ability, some artifact, etc. keeping it from being limited by genre.

    Yeah, it would definitely be cool to cross promote with other local shops.

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