Run For Your Life!

I tend to be someone who appreciates what De Souza and Sutko introduce as pervasive games, as in games that “include elements of everyday life” (Nieuwdorp, 2005) and “extend the gaming experience out into the real world” (Benford et al, 2005) either in spatial or temporal terms.

I’m personally familiar with games that tend to ‘go on in the background’ even when you’re not playing and many non-location-based games, such as console games, have adopted that technique since it subconsciously draws the player back into the game – either to see if there is a special event going on or, in the case of the Fable and Elder Scrolls series, if your tenants have paid you thousands in rent after you invested in all those houses throughout the kingdom.

That said, in the subject of location-based mobile games, I’m bringing back Zombies, Run! since it is a terrible underrated app in being considered a ‘fitness app’.


Zombies, Run! is an incredibly complex location-based mobile game insofar as it incorporates an intricately written storyline worthy of a console game with all the ‘perks’ of a location-based app – accurate interaction with your local map via Google Maps and a virtual ‘geocaching’ system that fits into the storyline. Huizinga’s “magic circle” in this case is your desired running/jogging/walking area – it can expand from a street to an entire city, and develops as you keep running in whichever direction you desire. The game also incorporates a core feature of fitness apps which is to allow you to listen to your ‘exercising playlist’ while you run, and story updates come randomly between one song and the next, sometimes catching you off guard.


What is incredibly interesting, and many people who categorise it as simply a fitness app don’t point out, is that these pre-recorded story updates will be accurately timed to take into consideration your local road map, giving you random optional missions such as saving a little girl or collecting supplies, and a voice will tell you to follow directions. This can lead to a whole new interaction with your city by taking you running in places you had never seen before, or into terrains you are not familiar with. It works precisely as De Souza and Sutko wrote: it equates the magic circle with the urban space, encouraging players to discover unknown areas of the city and bringing a digital layer to the construction of the “urban playful space”.

The physicality of the game – having zombies chase you if you choose to activate that option – as well as the complexity of its writing also brings to mind Richardson’s passage on the mobile phone being “both multiform and multifunctional, an ‘open work’ requiring a complex range of hermeneutic skills on the part of the user, and also highly mutable because ‘it is held very close to the body or stays on the body surface’ (Fortunati, 2005: 152–153, 156).”.

Although it is not a temporally-pervasive game, it doesn’t end when you stop running. One of the features that make it so encouraging for people who normally hate exercise is the rewards that you ‘collect’ while you are running, regardless of speed. These rewards then allow you to upgrade buildings and facilities in your “survivor’s camp” which will then unlock more chapters in the story.


It may be a form of abstraction insofar as it is fictional, but merging wellbeing and exercise with an exciting storyline plays with the (drawing from De Souza and Sutko’s work) co-presence of digital and physical spaces and flows in and out of them with ease. It allows for a certain level of daydreaming that is only highlighted and enriched by physical reality, possibly even discovering hidden parts of our cities – “attaching digital information to places and reconfiguring urban spaces” (De Souza and Sutko).


De Souza e Silva, A, and D. M. Sutko, eds. (2009) Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playscapes. New York: Peter Lang: 1-17

Richardson, I. (2011). The hybrid ontology of mobile gaming. Convergence, 17(4), 419-430. 

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