Nostalgia + AR + Social Impact: Pokémon wins.

When you’re 2 weeks behind the times, you can actually see the themes emerging.

What started as a humble hand-held game for Gameboy in 1996 has turned into a multimedia empire: it’s no secret that the smartphone app Pokémon Go has taken over. As of July 11th, the game boasted over 21 million active users. And it’s still growing.

On the 6th of July, Niantic Labs heralded the game’s launch on their blog:

“Players can discover and catch more than 100 Pokémon from the original Red and Blue games, take Pokémon into battle against other Pokémon at Gyms, uncover items including a variety of types of Poké Balls and eggs at PokéStops, hatch and train new Pokémon, and more.”

The Background

In early July, Nintendo released Pokémon Go in Asia, Australia, Germany, and the United States; in the past few days, they have expanded to the UK, Canada, much of Europe, and Japan.

Within hours of the app’s release in the UK, PCAdvisor.co.uk posted a complete guide to Pokemon Go, so even the novice user can now get up to speed.

Six interesting things have happened since Pokémon Go launched (via PCAdvisor.co.uk):

• Nintendo’s value has more than doubled to over $42bn making it more valuable than Sony.
• Such is the popularity of Pokémon Go, people are buying and selling high level accounts for hundreds of pounds.
• Hacking group OurMine has claimed responsibility of taking servers down, but we (and Niantic) are not sure it has been anything other than the sheer demand from millions of users. Another hacker group, PoodleCorp, has threatened to take down Pokémon Go on 1 August.
• The Pokémon Go panel at San Diego Comic Con gave us more insight into what to expect from the future of Pokemon GO.
• You can now use crowdsourced Pokémon Go maps to find out where to catch the Pokémon you want — see more.
• Somebody has already caught all available Pokemon (142 of 150) in game!

Pokémon Go’s gameplay is likely a cultural familiarity by now, but if you’ve missed it this far: the app uses GPS tracking and incorporates augmented reality, immersing the players in a Pokemon-catching spree in real time, based on the user’s unique location. There’s a divide in the Rural vs. Urban distribution. For example, there are not many Pokémon in rural areas, when compared with Sydney’s CBD.

The Personal Context

While I haven’t personally played Pokémon Go, I’m surrounded by it on all sides. During the first week of the release, my husband and brother-in-law walked through Sydney’s CBD at a snail’s pace, more interested in ‘catching ’em all’ than getting to our friend’s leaving drinks (Mr. Sedlak requests that I clarify: he has since removed the app. The wave, for him at least, has passed).

The Real World Technology office at Macquarie Park has likewise banded together over our (or, maybe their?) shared appreciation of the app. The conversation has died down over the recent weeks, but it’s still peppered with Pokémon-esque banter of some degree, at least.

The Interview

The two biggest fans in the Real World office are most likely Elle (Administrative Assistant) and Lachlan (Service Engineer) — and only because David F. works on-site with our clients for a lot of the week (thus, he’s temporarily discounted from the category of fans ‘in the office’)

Why did you first install Pokémon Go?

Elle: It’s a really unique combination of childhood games with modern day technology. And I liked the fact that you had to be physical and mobile in order to use it, which is a distinguishing feature from other apps and games.

Lachlan: I’ve been following the release since early September 2015, when the Pokémon Go subreddit started up. I never expected pokemon to move away from handheld consoles and onto smart phones, so I was quite interested in what it would be like. I’ve played all of the main pokemon games since I played Blue (the 1996 special edition Pokémon game) with my next door neighbour, so there is no way I would miss out on this!

When did you first hear about it?

Elle: I first heard when it was announced last year. There has been a little hype around it’s release this year, but I didn’t think it’d take off like it did.

Lachlan: I heard late last year from the Pokémon Go subreddit on Reddit.

Are you lifelong Pokémon fans?

Elle: I didn’t really get into pokemon until much later in life, and really only played it to fill up my pokedex, rather than training to beat the elite 4 — which is probably why Pokémon Go appealed to me so much.

Lachlan: I started with Pokémon in 1999 by playing Pokémon Blue with a close friend before I started school. I got my own Gameboy Color for my birthday in February 2000 (the Green and Gold Olympics one). Since then, I have bought and played every single pokemon generation.

How did it integrate into your life? (has it interrupted downtime, hanging out with friends, etc?)

Elle: Rather than staying home on the weekends, moping around the house, my sister and I will make an effort to go for a walk to catch pokémon. To be honest, it goes from a walk around the block, to a couple of hours around the suburb pretty quickly. And exercise is always good for mental health, so I find that it improves my mood, and has had a positive impact on my social life :)

Lachlan: I only really play it by myself late at night when I get home from work, since I don’t have much time on the weekends. It hasn’t really affected my time hanging with friends as I would usually try to do something with them on the weekends and Pokémon just sort of runs in the background.

What are the best or most innovative features?

Elle: Probably integrating a pedometer like system to earn rewards, or in this case pokémon.

As well as making local landmarks into pokéstops. It makes walking to a pokestop more enjoyable, and you are more inclined to walk further than usual, since you get items from visiting them.

Lachlan: I think the most innovative feature is the use of a smartphone: it is a place that Pokémon was not heading, traditionally sticking mostly to hand-held consoles. The change has been welcomed and since most people in the targeted age group have and use smart phones a lot, I think it has definitely paid off.

What are the worst or most annoying features?

Elle: Just going out of range of a pokémon. I play when I commute in the mornings and night. So I usually just miss a pokémon when public transport passes by it too quickly!

The other thing I’ve had a hard time with is pokémon spawning too close to a gym/pokéstop — so when you click on the pokemon to catch it, it selects the landmark rather than the pokemon.

There should be a filter system where you can toggle off the land marks just to see the map and pokémon only.

Lachlan: I hate the pokéball spinning when it’s thrown sometimes: it gets really annoying because I have lost plenty of pokémon to that. There is a pokéstop at work that I’m less than a metre away from at my desk. To be honest, that’s pretty annoying.

What is the social perception of Pokémon Go players (in your opinion)?

Elle: I think it’s been mostly favourable. For the most part, it seems to have had a positive reception. Although there has been a few instances of local disturbances and neighbourhood disruptions that aren’t very encouraging.

Lachlan: In my opinion, it is a long overdue socially targeted game. Historically, pokémon has been almost exclusively single-player, whereas Pokémon Go is all about interacting with other players. If Niantic can improve or make a social system in the game, it will probably keep a large playerbase with it.

After a few weeks of playing it, are you still as engaged as you were to start with? Why/why not?

Elle: A little bit of yes and no.

Yes: because I have yet to complete my pokédex, and the desire to catch new pokémon is still pretty high.

No: because the game is still riddled with bugs that affects the gameplay and is a little off-putting. I’m playing less than last week because of this.

Lachlan: I’m playing it a lot less because it doesn’t support me interacting with the other players, which is what I was looking forward to. I still enjoy casually playing it when I’m walking home or when I am out, though.

Do you have any concerns about the use of Pokémon Go?

Elle: Potential accidents are concerning. Even though the game starts up with a warning to be alert of your surroundings, I feel like younger children — especially unsupervised — could hurt themselves quite easily.

Lachlan: I’m concerned about players not respecting the places where they are playing, by leaving rubbish or creating lots of noise late at night. It’s all fun, just so long as there’s some common sense.

Are there any areas of tech/society/pop culture you’d be excited if Pokémon Go expanded into or started to impact?

Elle: I’m excited for the makers to improve the tracking system to make it easier to locate specific pokémon. It would also be beneficial to expand the game in rural areas. In its current iteration, the game seems to favour more dense/suburban areas.

I could see adding events to get legendary pokemon as being potentially very popular, and expanding the pokedex itself.

Lachlan: An effective social system within the game is critical to keep users engaged. It’s hard to compare yourself with others if there’s no way to view other players’ progress or achievements.

The Social Impact

Pokémon Go is so all-pervasive that even a retired teacher in Allentown, Pennsylvania (who, for full disclosure, is my mother) can recognise people playing it on the street. Even though she often refers to herself as the ‘urban Amish,’ she does own a smartphone, and has embraced technology’s ability to shrink distances between friends and family.

On her daily walk of the park in mid-July, she noticed a frequency of younger smartphone users sitting on benches or standing in specific areas — often mid-morning, when one would assume they should be working. Their heads were down, focused on their screens instead of the environment around them (a common complaint of Pokémon Go users is their obliviousness to their surroundings — which is fair, when game use has resulted in many accidents, thefts, and similar unfortunate incidents).

Upon approaching them, she said to one of the young men, “Can I ask you something? Is this something to do with the Pokémon thing?”

His face lit up, which caught the attention of a few other players around them. He replied, “Yes! How did you know?”

She had a small exchange (with limited knowledge about the app itself), and learned that these men had recently gotten off work from a night shift, electing to play Pokémon Go in the park instead of sitting at home in front of a screen. In short, she took a step outside of her comfort zone, to find out more information about something she didn’t quite understand, that someone else found incredibly important.

It’s exactly this type of social context that is getting the attention of educators and strategists looking to capitalise on how the game could be used to created strengthened inter-personal interactions.

Craig Smith, an educator, researcher and autism expert, has built a guide for parents to use to educate their children using Pokemon Go outside of the classroom, or for people with autism to expand their horizons, with a focus on the game’s real world interactions.

(via Gizmodo.com.au)

As well as getting traditionally lazy, couch-bound gamers out into the real world to rack up steps on their fitness trackers, the world’s most newly-popular mobile game could be doing some genuine good to build social skills and interpersonal relationships.
“The real world social aspect of Pokemon Go is unlike anything I have ever experienced with a video game. Even Minecraft, with its near ubiquitous take up by gamers world wide and continued massive interest in educational spaces and for YouTubers everywhere, did not have the immediate social impact that Pokemon Go has engaged since its launch.” Smith, an aspect practice specialist at Autism Spectrum Australia, or Aspect, has been stunned by the overnight success of Pokemon Go, but has seen the opportunity for the game to help children and young people get more from the game than just the enjoyment of playing it.
In an iTunes U course and a post on his Autism Pedagogy blog, Smith has outlined the ways in which Pokemon Go can be used by parents and educators to expand the interpersonal skills of children and young adults. At the moment, he says in his blog, the game can be used on a small-scale basis by parents and individuals, but he’s also exploring its potential to be used by teachers and in classrooms as a legitimate educational tool in the same way as Minecraft is now widely recognised.”

While it still has a long way to move forward in development (we are seeing an app in its infancy, despite its far-reach and long-tail of active users), I don’t think it’s early to say that Pokémon Go is paving the way for games that double down on nostalgia and social impact simultaneously.

Which, as I’m sure Jane McGonigal would agree, is a very good thing.

“A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.” 
― Jane McGonigal
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
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