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Jessika, who is in the third year of her doctorate, has a true passion for her subject. Her PhD: Location-based augmented reality games: Creating engaging game experiences for tourists focuses on enhancing tourists’ experiences through mobile augmented reality games, an area that has yet to be properly explored by tourism and game industries.

“The tourism industry is constantly searching for new and innovative product and service ideas to meet the high demands and expectations of tourists to create unique and engaging experiences,” Jessika explains. “Mobile devices can create these extraordinary experiences in the palm of the user’s hand. There’s also a willingness to engage with new mobile technologies, as eight out of ten tourists travel with a smartphone in their pocket.”

She also points out that mobile gaming is one of the fastest-growing areas within the games industry, making this the obvious choice when it comes to exploring the possibilities for augmented reality games designed for travellers. However, Jessika tells us that the gaming and tourism industries have more in common than you may at first think: “Gaming and playing are essential to our human existence as they give us prospects to relax and learn new skills. Both the tourism and the gaming industry create those imaginary worlds in which we temporarily escape.”

Jessika has focused on location-based augmented-reality games, which she believes have great potential within the tourism sector as they can make places more interactive, helping travellers to truly engage with the history and culture that surrounds them. “There are only a few location-based augmented reality games on the market, which as yet don’t entirely meet tourist requirements,” she points out. “My study fills this gap by analysing tourists’ needs for these kinds of games.”

Her doctorate, which is funded by a scholarship, isn’t just looking at how such games could benefit the tourism industry though, it has also led to a collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering at Porto University (FEUP) in Portugal, where her external supervisor Professor Antonio Coelho is based. It was here that Jessika got involved in designing a prototype of a location-based augmented-reality game during a summer school activity. The game tells the history of Port wine, leading the player through the historic city of Porto.

However, this isn’t the only foreign travel that Jessika has been able to undertake as part of her doctorate, as she has also travelled to tourism conferences in Innsbruck and Dublin, and was able to run field research in Berlin thanks to the Graduate School’s Mobility Award. She visited the German capital to test one of the few location-based augmented reality games on the market for tourists. “It was essential for my study to go abroad to test the location-based game onsite. I am really grateful for this opportunity,” she enthuses.

More recently, she has been appointed to talk and moderate a seminar on location-based gaming at the UNWTO European Commission meeting in Haifa, Israel. This seminar is aimed at national tourist organisations that want to learn how these games will open up new opportunities for tourism destinations, by creating engaging experiences with tourist sites and cultural history, applying gameful interactions and storytelling. Jessika comments: “This event is an excellent opportunity to represent BU as a leading university for innovative tourism research, and is a big break for an early career researcher to speak as an expert on location-based games in tourism to a highly influential audience.”

Because Jessika’s research spans so many specialisms, she has really benefited from the input of her supervisory team, which includes experts from various disciplines. Professor Janet Dickinson, from the School of Tourism, and Dr Feng Tian, from the Faculty of Science & Technology, have provided valuable support during her PhD journey. She has even gone on to share her knowledge with others in the university. “Along with other PhD students doing research in games, I’ve been involved with establishing a games research group with members from different faculties in order to build synergies, foster exchange between researchers and establish game research in different disciplines,” she explains.

Jessika is also full of praise for the Graduate School and the support they have provided her with, particularly when she first began her PhD. “Within my first year I attended several courses on academic and personal development, all of which sat within the research framework. The variety and scope of the courses is brilliant and should be considered by any PhD student in this programme to further their development as a young researcher,” she states.

She has also found it useful to attend the various social events that the Graduate School organises, allowing her to meet other PhD students and really make the most of her time at BU away from her studies.