Physical Navigation

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Navigation through gameplay environments through bodily movement.

Movement and navigation are common occurrences in games. While they in many games are done symbolically through moving characters through fictive environments, some games instead have players do Physical Navigation through requiring them to move their own bodies through a physical environment as part of the gameplay.


While many Sports include physical movement, Orienteering is the prime example of one that also requires navigation. The navigation required in Geocaching relatively easy in contrast since GPS use is part of the activity. BotFighters, Pirates!, Treasure, and Uncle Roy All Around You are all games that rely less on making players move to specific locations but nevertheless require players to navigate in physical environments.

Quite naturally, Live Action Roleplaying Games such as Assassin, Dragonbane, and Trenne Byar require some level of Physical Navigation since they are played in large areas that players need to traverse.

Human PacMan re-interprets Pac-Man by making players embody all the characters and thereby force them to do Physical Navigation to play the game. ConQwest also makes players do Physical Navigation, but in this case teams of players need to more huge game pieces around a city. Pokémon Go requires players to move around to find gyms, Pokéballs, and Pokémons.

Using the pattern

On a general level, Physical Navigation in a game is the combination of Game World Navigation and Real World Gameplay Spaces. More specifically, it also requires goal locations and challenges to reaching these. While the challenges are more or less the same as for any Game World Navigation, Player Physical Prowess may become a gameplay feature unless explicitly design against (through for example avoiding Races or Time Limits). In contrast, the goal locations nearly always have additional characteristics due to the real world consequences of using Artifact-Location Proximity, Player-Artifact Proximity, Player-Avatar Proximity, Player-Location Proximity, or Player-Player Proximity.

Robotic Players provide the possibility for AI Players to engage in Physical Navigation.

Interface Aspects

Physical Navigation is a primary example of where players use their own bodies as interfaces for the game.


Physical Navigation is a form of Physical Enactment and changes the way Game World Exploration, Movement, Races, and Stealth function since players can use all their sensory abilities and are limited by their own physical abilities. Having previous knowledge of the area to be navigated is an example of Real World Knowledge Advantages, and one that is likely to appear in games using Physical Navigation.

Since it is a real world activity to move and navigate, Physical Navigation instantiates the pattern Real Life Activities Affect Game State when present. Since the reason why someone moves in an environment can be difficult to perceive, Physical Navigation is one of the most accessible ways of creating Pervasive Gameplay as long as the speed of moving can fit within what is socially acceptable.


Can Instantiate

Pervasive Gameplay, Physical Enactment, Real Life Activities Affect Game State, Real World Knowledge Advantages

Can Modulate

Game World Exploration, Movement, Races, Stealth

Can Be Instantiated By

Artifact-Location Proximity, Player-Artifact Proximity, Player-Avatar Proximity, Player-Location Proximity, Player-Player Proximity, Robotic Players

Game World Navigation together with Real World Gameplay Spaces

Can Be Modulated By

Player Physical Prowess

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



Updated version of the pattern Physical Navigation first described in the report Game Design Patterns for Mobile Games[1].


  1. Davidsson, O., Peitz, J. & Björk, S. (2004). Game Design Patterns for Mobile Games. Project report to Nokia Research Center, Finland.