Hardly a week has passed since Pokémon GO, an augmented reality (AR) video game, went viral and interest in the mobile market soared (just look at Nintendo’s stock!) Many companies are clamoring what makes Pokémon GO so successful and you can find an in-depth explanation of their business strategy on Mobile Roadie’s blog. What I haven’t seen a lot of people talk about is the game’s niche; its addictiveness changes the way we behave with technology and the utility that AR has in nuanced applications makes it inadmissible right now.
Creatures of Immediacy
It’s too early to tell how long people will be enthralled by Pokémon GO but it’s hard to deny how the game already conditions people to view their phones differently. What do I mean? The chime/vibration mechanism that alerts you when you encounter a Pokémon is becoming a knee-jerk reaction for many players. The urge to check the game the moment you hear/feel your phone is overwhelming and in many cases, supersedes the need to check a text or Facebook notification. Pokémon GO restructures the hierarchy of conditioned responses (checking a text or Facebook) and makes us anticipate a Pokémon notification instead when the unconditioned stimulus (sound/buzzing/vibration) occurs. Call me Pavlovian but if that’s not classical conditioning, I don’t know what is.
Why is Pokemon GO more effective at doing this than messaging apps or Facebook? Nintendo makes the conditioned response and the reward (catching a Pokemon), contingent on time. Since the game is heavily dependent on being at a certain location at a certain time, it stresses immediacy. You can afford not to check a text or e-mail until later, but with Pokemon GO, you might not catch the desired Pokemon if you wait. Adding urgency to the conditioning formula is what makes Pokemon GO so addictive to a people already beset with a fear of missing out (FOMO.)
Firstly, let’s acknowledge how many modern video games flip the bias of being a “waste of time” on its head . When Minecraft went viral and parents were worried that their kids were limiting their imaginations spending all their time in front of a screen, the opposite proved to be true. The game allowed children learned to create worlds from a sandbox environment where, instead, their imaginations were the limit.
Secondly, many consider playing games a “passive activity” and the introduction of Pokémon GO completely refutes that. The game’s geocaching dynamic helps kids physically navigate their environments in a way that technology has never allowed for before. They’re learning how to use maps, socially interact with other players, and get exercise while doing all this. It proves that augmented reality innately makes us more curious about the world and encourages us to interact with it. How can that be a bad thing?
I want to take this time to broaden the scope of the subject from Pokémon GO to augmented reality. This isn’t to stray from the game’s impact- quite the opposite. Pokémon GO reignites previously extinguished conversations about reality-altering technology. There’s now room for dialogue concerning AR’s utility and its potential applications in businesses and education.
The success of one augmented reality game perpetuates a generation of applications that can potentially educate children, construct buildings, and even teach about wildlife. Let’s imagine some real world utilizations:
- Education: Disadvantaged, isolated schools that cannot afford to go to a natural history museum can bring fossils to their classrooms. Educators can integrate dinosaurs right onto their projectors or computer screens.
- Real Estate: You’re at ground zero of a construction site and are pitching to your investors what their building will look like upon completion. By interfacing the finished product on your screen, you can move your phone around and visualize the building as it occupies the current space.
- Travel: Rome and Athens try their best to preserve the architecture of the past but AR will actually allow you see these civilizations as they were in their golden ages through the lens of your camera.
- Nature: You’re on a hike and chance upon a flower or animal with which you’re unfamiliar. A combination of image recognition and AR can superimpose a brief description of your subject onto the screen and educate you on its origin, classification, and dangers.
This is just scratching the surface of AR’s potential; its evolution could lead to mixed reality (MR) technology where integrating depth and perspective would lessen the illusion of something on your phone. First though, we have to shift our views of this niche as just a passing hype or a detriment to pedestrian behavior. Pokemon GO worked so well with the general public because it introduced augmented reality with cute, friendly creatures. That’s just the beginning. AR is slowly stitching itself into the social fabric of our lives and we can be the hand that guides the needle if we take its implications seriously.