A Moment to pause
I wanted to write a post about Pokémon Go ever since I began playing last Thursday, but I held off in respect for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the Dallas shootings. My ability to enjoy an AR app despite these events is a privilege because they don't directly affect me.
Like I wrote in a previous post, I will continue to reflect on social issues regarding police brutality, people of color and now attitudes against law enforcement. And I will continue to add to a reading list.
Childhood Brought To You By Augmented Reality
Pokémon Go released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand last week. Speaking conservatively, the augmented reality app developed by Niantic, Inc has taken over people's lives, at least in Southern California. I shot a video on the app last Friday at USC (BTS post coming soon) and it seemed like every other person was playing.
This isn't the first AR game from Nintendo, nor even the first AR game developed by Niantic, Inc. I feel, however, that Pokémon GO will be the first major instance where everyday people realize the potential in AR and finally get on a train that's been around since the late-2000's.
The AR is already disrupting industries in education, medicine, engineering and the military. It's is also a field of interest for venture capitalist firms. In May, I was able to visit Lightspeed Ventures along with other USC Annenberg students and we sat with founding partner Barry Eggers, who infamously discovered Snapchat through his daughter.
Eggers told us that he "invests in themes, not companies." He looks at companies who offer something that will become an disruptor in an industry. When I asked him what themes/trends Lightspeed Ventures is currently looking at, he said the next wave in the tech industry is in augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
So AR has been long on the radar in the tech industry. Now that Pokémon GO has been released and players are flooding social media with their experiences, AR will have more visibility among the general public.
Nostalgia and Technology
But I'll get into the the potential future of AR--specifically AR and the news industry--in a different post. Instead, I want to talk about this app and why I love this game so much.
I was excited for Pokémon GO when it was first advertised. I was not only excited about catching Pokémon in "real-life," but I knew it would mean a lot to my friends. Many of them played Pokémon games for hours in high school training, breeding and battling in the band room. This franchise that began with my friends as kids stuck with them into adulthood. The first day that Pokémon GO was available, for instance, one of my friends used her son as an excuse to walk around and catch Pokémon.
As for me, I watched the television shows as a kid, and Jigglypuff was my favorite Pokémon because I liked to sing. My mom, however, thought that trading card games, Game Boys, and anything in that realm was more for boys. Buying video games for me probably wasn't a good idea, admittedly. I had a tendency to break my toys. I grew up without having a solid idea of Pokémon games and their respective story arcs.
(If I really wanted to, I could have asked my friends to teach me or just played online, but it was easier for me to get lost in fantasy books.)
I don't have the same nostalgia as other players when I'm playing Pokémon GO. Yet I still appreciate this game because I can finally participate in the gaming part of the franchise, even if Forbes called it "a terrible Pokémon game."
Given that I have no experience playing Pokémon games, I appreciate that catching Pokémon in this app simply requires me to flick a Pokéball at it and hope that it doesn't escape.
Part of the Fam
The best part of playing Pokémon GO is spotting other players who can be identified by the following:
Walking slowly while looking at their phone
Not really walking in a straight line
Raising their phone as if for a Snap, but holding it longer than 10 seconds
Suddenly turning, yelling and making swiping motions at their screen
Phone is connected to an external battery
It's also easy to spot some players because there are certain spots where people gather to collect items or battle at gyms. Some spots have temporary "lure modules" that attracts Pokémon. And wherever Pokémon go, so do Pokémon trainers:
Yes. All of them were playing Pokémon GO.
Once you find others who are playing, there's a sense of belonging to a community. This is because there are specific feelings associated with Pokémon GO. You feel, for instance, gratification with every Pokémon caught and every time you level up. You become invested in training Pokémon and hatching the eggs you collect. You ask what team other players are on and/or where to find a certain Pokémon in the area. And knowing there are others nearby who are experiencing the same thing as you makes the game even more fun.
In this sense, AR in Pokémon GO is an interesting way to build a fandom/community.
Just before I began writing, I was waiting for a friend to deliver my keys back to me because I accidentally left them in his car. I killed time by catching Pokémon around my neighborhood. I saw him drive by just a block from my home and when I flagged him down the first thing he said was, "I assume you're looking for Pokémon, too?"
He grinned and held up his phone, which was open to the app. While hunting and driving is definitely dangerous, it just goes to show how addicting this game can be.
I look forward to seeing how Pokémon GO fares in the immediate future, especially when dealing with demand once it's open to the rest of the world. I'll also look forward to seeing how this will highlight the benefits and risks of AR games and how it will affect AR investment as a whole. (I mean, if you can get rare Pokémon to come to your business, that's a whole new level of marketing strategy).
If you see anything new in relation to Pokémon GO and/or AR, please let me know. In the meantime, I'll be off to catch 'em all.
Blogger's Note 7.11.16:
a previous version of this post mentioned that certain spots have "incense" that attracts Pokémon, but this was misidentified. Certain spots actually have "lure modules," and they attract Pokémon to that one spot. "Incense" used by players will follow wherever they go, and will attract Pokémon to players while they are moving around.