12 Jul 2016

Pokemon Go, the Best Use of Augmented Reality Yet?

Pokemon was synonymous with growing up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, however as with most crazes it’s relevance and appeal gradually dwindled as technology advanced. Now fast forward to 2016 and it’s back in the limelight, it’s one of the most talked topics on twitter with 6 million mentions in the last week, it’s been downloaded so much their servers crashed. Pokemon is once again at the forefront of popular culture.

The new incarnation of the franchise gives you the chance to go and be the Pokémon master you always knew you could be. Unlike the original, Pokémon GO is a smartphone app that shows you a map of your nearby surroundings – and markers for where wild Pokémon are. You can head out in the real world, look through your phone screen, and with AR (augmented reality) technology you’ll see the Pokemon on screen. You flick Pokeball’s at the screen to catch them, and head to public spaces listed as Pokemon Gyms on the map to fight other trainers.

You may be thinking, how has this happened. Well firstly credit where credit is due, Nintendo, Creatures and Game Freak who own the Pokemon franchise have adopted augmented reality to the max, they have perfectly integrated the technology and made it relevant to today’s youth who see the traditional Gameboy as an ancient and mythological device. The game hasn’t lost its nostalgia though and is consequently re-engaging the original players of the 2000’s, even if it doesn’t quite have the allure of a rare shiny.

Despite all the excitement the game doesn’t come without problems. In America it has been reported that players have become the target of a spate of armed robberies after suspects usurped the geolocation tool in Pokémon Go to lure unwitting victims straight to them. It’s also led to a number of real world difficulties, including some who were hospitalised after chasing virtual creatures into walls and vehicles.

Perhaps most concerning was an article in Forbes magazine that says the app, can read and write emails. It can also view Google Docs, search history and private photos. Given, the app by necessity has to use location data, but the incredibly private information it has access to far usurps its need. Sounds like a Jessy and James cunning plan?

The premise behind Pokemon admittedly hands itself well to an AR world, despite this it is undoubtedly the best use of the technology from what we have seen. Other brands have used it with moderate success, Ikea cleverly used it to show what a piece of their furniture would look like in your house. Will other brands now crack it and produce engaging content? Who knows, but it’s certainly worth trying.

Despite its problems it has already inspired countless players to go outside and explore their neighbourhoods, travel to historic landmarks, kayak to the middle of lakes to battle Gym Leaders with friends, and meet new people. The game has engendered a spirit of exploration, discovery, and prosocial play, that we haven’t seen on this scale before and that alone deserves respect.