Pokemon GO: An Augmented Reality Game

I find it quite serendipitous that the Pokemon GO craze is happening the very same week my EdTech program is exploring virtual and augmented reality.

For those that are unfamiliar, Pokemon GO is an opportunity for users to “Travel between the real world and the virtual world” (The Official Pokemon Website). To play, users “move around, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you’re near a Pokemon. Once you’ve encountered a Pokemon, take aim on your smartphone’s touch screen and throw an Poke Ball to catch it” (The Official Pokemon Website).

Pokemon GO is a perfect example of how augmented reality is being used by consumers. Augmented reality is “a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data” (Augmented Reality, 2016).

At first I, like I’m sure many others, rolled my eyes at this whole concept because I was never a Pokemon fan as a child. However, this craze has gotten so large that it is plastered all over social media, I have seen some of my colleagues looking for Pokemon in our village courtyard, and my husband tells me one of the men at the bachelor party he attended last weekend was also looking for Pokemon while they were going around town. This has got my attention now.

The first thing that I find interesting about this game is its implementation of augmented reality in a game based platform. We have experienced augmented reality in class through Google cardboard for educational purposes, but this is completely entertainment. It is surprising to see that the paths between education and entertainment are now crossing in the lives of students. I think this will help further bridge the gap between “why do I need to know this thing you are teaching me in school” and “the real world.”

The second thing I find interesting about this game, is the feedback it has received from users and skeptics. I have read some very convincing arguments on both sides of the spectrum.

First, I came across a positive Pokemon GO anecdote on social media. Suzanne Enciso, a close family friend, posted this on her social media account:

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 4.00.31 PM

Though she makes – what I am assuming is – sarcastic speculation at the end, she does have a point. In a world where children are so glued to their screens and devices, we see a decline in authentic socialization. This game, however, has encouraged so many people to get out into the world and interact with their environment and their surroundings while playing this game.

One of the comments on Suzanne’s post was a friend saying her son has a friend who boasted about taking their dog on 5 walks in one day looking for Pokemon. Another talked about her daughter voluntarily going outside to look for Pokemon when traditionally she would just stay inside all day. Even friends of mine have mentioned that their husbands are more willing to go on walks with them in search of Pokemon. There are countless testimonies such as these that show why Pokemon GO could be a benefit for the health and socialization of young people – but what are we willing to sacrifice for it?

The Washington Post recently published an article headlined, “Holocaust Museum to visitors: Please stop catching Pokemon here.” I’m not sure about you, but that headline hit me like a ton of bricks. As a student who has studied the Holocaust and an adult one week away from visiting a concentration camp in Germany, my heart sank. According to the article, “the museum, along with other landmarks, is a ‘PokeStop’ within the game – a place where players can get free in-game items” (Peterson, 2016).

My first thought was wow – why would the game developers make the Holocaust museum a hot-spot for Pokemon? Don’t they have any respect for what this place represents?

Then I had another thought. If those people weren’t looking for Pokemon, would they ever go to the museum? Could this potentially be a foot in the door to encouraging people to frequent these institutions of learning? While I still agree the premise of hunting Pokemon in the museum is a bit distasteful, I think there has to be some way to use this to encourage people to get to these museums and landmarks and learn about the history of the world when they might not otherwise.

While I am not ready to jump on the bandwagon, Pokemon GO raises some very interesting questions about augmented reality, its use in our consumer culture, and the benefits or drawbacks of engaging with our physical world while simultaneously getting lost in a digital one.

Sources:

Augmented reality. (2016, July 15). Retrieved July 15, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality

Peterson, A. (2016, July 12). Holocaust Museum to visitors: Please stop catching Pokémon here. Retrieved July 15, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/07/12/holocaust-museum-to-visitors-please-stop-catching-pokemon-here/

The Official Pokémon Website | Pokemon.com | Explore the World of Pokémon. (2016). Retrieved July 15, 2016, from http://www.pokemon.com/us/

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