Arts & Culture Society

Reflections from Ross: Go Pokémon!

2936ccb7-60e3-409e-951d-93e94cedb9b4I was enjoying a leisurely coffee and the paper on Sunday morning, on the North Fork of Long Island, looking out across some oyster ponds towards Shelter Island.  I jumped on Twitter for a moment, and wondered…what on earth is Pokémon Go?!?  Then I went paddle boarding and promptly forgot all about it.

But something odd was happening in the village…all the parents were talking about this game. And the kids were all playing it, yes, and their noses were still to their phones, but they were outside! Running around, exploring and apparently capturing things.

Later in the day I finally posed the question…what is Pokémon Go?  A friend’s son patiently explained it to me, showing me his avatar and walking me through his Pokédex and a bunch of other things I still don’t understand.  So I decided to download the app and try it out on my way to the office.  I still don’t understand it, but I’ve caught some Doduo, Goldeen, Kingler, Tattata, Bulbasaur, Gastly and other things.  I haven’t battled for a gym yet.  Maybe later.  But probably not, as I tend not to step foot close to gyms.

This is one of the first times I’ve tried Augmented Reality (AR), and it was sort of intriguing.  While I’m useless at the game, it isn’t hard to see why people love it so much.  You’re outside, you’re moving around, you’re learning things about your environment…all while chasing these little Pokémon, which are all over the place. But the novelty soon wore off. About half way to the office I stopped playing, because I realized I had been totally absorbed in the game and was barely aware of anything else. It’s just a matter of time before someone walks off a cliff chasing a cute little Pidgey, or I walk into a Citibike stand or in front of a bus. I spent the rest of my walk wondering if everyone absorbed by their mobile phone was playing the game, or just checking their messages.  However, in subsequent days, I’ve found myself opening the app to see if there are any Rattata’s in my office.  There’s most certainly one in the elevator.

By the way, here’s a list of things that have happened to folk while playing.  And the Holocaust Museum, Arlington Cemetery and Auschwitz are among the landmarks that have requested that Pokémon Go take their hunt some place else and have asked the maker Niantic to remove their physical sites from the game.

Pokémon Go clearly illustrates the significance of AR, the increasing role it is going to play in our lives and its potential to change our behavior and how we interact with the real world. It’s not a stretch to see that AR is going to be a valuable educational tool (among other things.) While the content about the PokéStops was very limited (some neigbourhood “landmarks” had been gone for years) imagine what’s possible for an app that focuses on training, education and information. It’s also amazing to see that within the space of a couple of days, the whole country seems to be playing this game. The game launches in Germany today…I wonder if we will witness the same mass behavior change we’ve seen here in the U.S.?

We’ve discussed the blurring of the physical and virtual many times at Techonomy. Including a session at TE15, The Limits of the Virtual, with Cory Ondrejka of Facebook (and Second Life – remember that?) Alexa Hirschfeld of Paperless Post and others. Last year Mary Lou Jepsen moderated a session on the “Future of Reality” with Leap Motion, DAQRI and the National Training and Simulation Association. We’ll continue the thread at Techonomy 16 in November. Tech evangelist, and entrepreneur-in-residence at UploadVR Robert Scoble, will be joining us. Also there will be geospatial and geolocation intelligence experts from Google, Spire and Planet Labs – they may not be talking specifically about AR/VR but it’s connected and it’s a conversation that is changing quickly.

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