Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Stuart Moulthrop

Committee Members

Thomas Malaby, John Hall, Arijit Sen, Nathaniel Stern


computer games, geography, ludopilgrim, media, placemaking, screen capture


This project works to understand how open-world computer games help generate a sense of place from the player. Since their development over a half century ago, computer games have primarily been discussed in terms of space. Yet the way we think about space today is much different than how those scientists calculated space as a construction of time, mass, and location. But as computer games have evolved, the language has failed to accommodate the more nuanced qualities of game spaces. This project aims at articulating the nuances of place through phenomenological methods to objectively analyze the player experience as performed through various behaviors. Using a conceptual model that partially illustrates sense of place, I demonstrate how players create out of place—or anatopistic—places through play.

After a historical survey of play as it is manifested through interaction with miniaturized environments, I turn to computer games as they have helped embody their creators’ sense of place. The third and fourth chapters offer a pair of case studies that reflect upon the experiences of the individual player and player groups. First, I compare virtual photography with tourism to reveal an array of sensibilities suggestive of the pursuit of place. This is followed with a look at Niantic’s Pokémon Go and how player groups use the game to act out ritualistic forms of play. Positioning the player as a “ludopilgrim,” I demonstrate how players perform individual or intersubjectively meaningful places as a form of transgressive placemaking.