Maria Tanase discusses the legacy of augmented reality game, Pokémon Go.
Looking at the “craze” that enveloped the launch of Pokémon Go this summer, it’s easy to dismiss it as just another fad: fashions fluctuate, culminate and eventually burst and settle into a stable pool of loyal followers. Which isn’t to say that when it did launch, it didn’t prompt a whole slew of arguments for why millennials’ choice of entertainment is too invasive or addictive or just another symptom of this generation’s obsession with escapism, because God forbid they’d actually take an interest in real issues.
But the reality is that Pokémon Go isn’t any different from other games or pastimes, and the question that should be asked isn’t why it has had so much success, but what does this success say about our society.
Any game involves a certain degree of make-believe: when you decide to play, you implicitly accept the rules of the world it creates, otherwise not only can you not complete it, but it becomes utterly unenjoyable – which is why some may have had issues with the interface. Pokémon Go doesn’t just recreate a world separate from our own, it insinuates itself directly into the user’s life, making it all the more versatile. In this way, a walk home from work or taking your dog out in the morning can also become a quest to get that Mr. Mime or that Geodude.
It’s not just that it can be played virtually anywhere, at any time. When we think of virtual reality, we perceive it as parallel reality: something external, with its own internal coherence, parallel to ours but fully valid and independent, whereas Pokémon Go augments itself wherever it can and wherever the user wants it to. And where some may have had issues with it existing so fully, establishing itself so completely, requiring just very little of the user’s imagination to come into being, it’s precisely this feature of it that has made it into such a success.
In a world where free time is a valuable commodity, Pokémon Go’s technology allows it to fill up the blank spaces of imagination so that more of the player’s focus is shifted towards actually playing and enjoying the game, the time spent playing is thus more concentrated – you get more from what you pay which in this case is the time you dedicate to it. In this sense, it doesn’t take up more of your life, but allows you to squeeze in more variety, which is what you would expect of any good product. It’s efficient entertaining, if such a concept were tenable.
Pokémon Go then signifies what is required of anything that competes for clients’ attention: it’s supple, detailed and complex, as it aims to create a complete experience. Certainly, one can relate to the nostalgia it invokes and that skeptics have argued is its only driver – if only it were just as easy to recreate the Harry Potter world, without any of the “puppet strings” being visible, but Pokemon is unique in that. For many, it’s an opportunity to fully experience one of the stories that shaped their childhood, and escapist or not, it’s understandable.
While some accuse the game of prioritizing fantasy over reality, some players have noted actual health-related benefits that come with playing. For one, the game requires users to actually step out of their homes and walk copious amounts in search of pokémon, which exist in both virtual and actual reality: you won’t be running into any mutant animal vaguely reminiscent of an actual one but pokémon do exist in real space. Pokémon Go doesn’t do away with the issue of game or internet addiction, made worse by the spread of smartphones but it does bring in physical activity to what has until now been perceived as a very static pastime.
One can even glimpse a vague sense of community among players, especially as they relate to non-players, who tend to do away with it as mere child’s play. Spend fifteen minutes observing a pokéstop (a place where users can get virtual tools necessary to play) and you’ll see how the allure of catching new pokémon does away with any nervousness one might have when interacting with strangers. Moreover, because it follows a strong storyline, it’s managed to help those dealing with a mental illness to maintain a healthy lifestyle, providing them with an engaging and rewarding activity, that not only gets them out of the house when it would otherwise have been very hard to do so, but also by re-enforcing positive feedback – one need not undermine the effect of doing well in anything.
In the end, the game is still a product marketed towards a certain demographic and it’s never going to please everyone. It has, however, done well in visualizing what that demographic and its expectations would be and has managed to fulfill them in a way that’s making use of the technology available to it. It has adapted to the demands of a continuously changing society and, as expected, said demands have already started to change: while Niantic reported staggering gains in July, when the game was launched, these have begun to plateau as more augmented-reality games start cropping up and improving original issues. Pokémon Go may not be here for long, but augmented reality as a means for entertainment seems like it is.
Featured Image: Wikimedia