The recent, inescapable rise of Pokémon Go has made it clear to me that augmented reality is transforming how we have fun. While the widespread popularity of the game itself will probably be a passing phase (I doubt most people over the age of fourteen will be forever amused by finding Pidgeys in their bathrooms), the changes that it points to are not. Here are three ways that I see Pokémon Go and future AR games helping us amuse ourselves in a way that’s better for everyone.
- We will move more. The rise of obesity in America and other parts of the developed world has had parents, educators and health professionals worried about the increasing amount of playtime that children are spending in front of television sets and stationary video games. Adults as well are guilty of too often being sedentary in front of screens of various shapes and sizes. Unless you decide to hire someone to walk your phone for you or use your iPhone as a controller, playing Pokémon Go requires you to move around— a lot, if you really want to catch ’em all. While some safety concerns have popped up regarding players walking or driving while being distracted by their phones, these issues will largely dissolve once wearable AR — such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and whatever Magic Leap is cooking up behind closed doors — becomes mainstream, especially with the advent of better self-driving vehicle technology.
- We will talk more. I’ve already had several friendly, positive interactions with passersby on the street as a result of playing Pokémon Go — and this is Manhattan, where street interactions with strangers are usually limited to exchanging apathetic scowls or asking for money. I’ve read unique stories on the Internet about players much more intense than I forming teams and setting off on wild cross-country adventures together. This sort of live, interpersonal interaction can’t be replicated through MMO games or online gaming forums and communities. While virtual reality, with its intense-looking, fully immersive headsets has been criticized for isolating players further from others, AR games do the opposite. Even outside of gaming, AR has the potential to eliminate the “cell phone at the dinner table” problem by allowing people to experience their virtual interactions and their IRL ones at the same time.
- We will create more. While the choices you make playing traditional video games certainly influence your outcomes, in the end you are still playing in the isolated world that the game creator has built. This isn’t true of AR games. Even if everyone is playing the same game, your playing experience is unique to you, because the game is set in the world that you inhabit. You can change your gaming experience as often and in as wide a variety of ways as you can change the setting around you. AR will provide many more opportunities to be innovative than currently exist with traditional games, helping players to become active contributors to their own experiences rather than passive consumers.
The AR revolution is unique in that, while technological innovations in entertainment are often criticized for isolating us from each other and the world, AR games are making us more connected. I hope to see these trends continue even after our Pokémon Go obsession has vanished into the mist.