27 jul Testing Pokémon Go
By Mufty Hasanov
You have noticed the suspicious looking crowds in parks gazing constantly in their phones. Did someone point a phone against you? Or perhaps you saw someone aimlessly walking around your street with a phone in hand? It is called Pokémon GO, an augmented reality (AR) game and no it is not something you see only in your backyard. It is in everyone’s backyard. From Australia to Alaska everyone is part of the hype and Groningen is not an exception. At the Urban Gro Lab we did some test runs of the app and here we are about to share some spatial facts linked to the game.
The year is 2014, April 1st, Google launches something called “Pokemon Challenge”, an April fool video about an AR game using the “explore” function of Google Maps. Two years later the kids of the 90s can ultimately enjoy the real AR game and no this is not a joke. Did you see that Charmander there in the corner… looks pretty real to us! But what is augmented reality? Some science here would help, Graham et all (2013:465) define augmented reality as the “material/virtual nexus mediated through technology, information and code, and enacted in specific and individualised space/time configurations” or in other words that is a “live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data” (Xiaoge 2016:100).
Pokémon Go uses the GPS signal (and respectively your phone’s internet signal to find your precise location). Until now nothing new, most of the apps we check on daily base make use of both signals to feed. However, those of you who used the Pokémon Go app, will notice the richness and the details of the maps the application is using. We have no confirmation about the source of the maps but we can openly say that game knows much more about us and our surroundings that we know about ourselves. Two of the main features of the application, the PokeStops and the Gym are clear example of that.
Pokémon Go uses location specific data which is accumulated by the use of mobile phones in public spaces and carefully registered by any map handler. To begin with, why urban areas are more attractive to a Pokémon to appear on your radar? Simple, the busier a certain location is, for example a park, a major traffic light, a school or even a church, the higher possibility that the same location will be a PokeStop or a Gym. A church you would say? Why a church would be a Pokemon Go gym? Well, many people go there and use their phones…we certainly hope not during religious services. When it comes to the PokeStops, those are still relatively busy places which appear to be also secondary hot-spot based on the data feed provided by the map service. An interesting fact here, PokeStops are often hidden objects or artifacts, which one often could exclude form his or her daily urban radar.
How is this related to Groningen or any other locations you would say? In the last week we installed the app and went for an exploratory walks in Groningen and also took the train to see what exactly the differences are. Needless to say one of the hubs of Pokémon activity in the town is the Noorderplantsoen, where you can see gangs gathering together next to the fountains. When we walked around some interesting locations appeared. Did you know where the Paardenkop in Groningen is, or the hidden “Bowser on roof”. Yes, the same Bowser which is the bad guy in Nintendo’s Super Mario. Those with a long many other hidden urban artifacts are hidden in the app. Some of those you can see in the pictures below.
We also took the app on small trip to Frankfurt, where we basically used the app to point us where the most popular “happening” spots are. The information we got form the descriptions of the PokeStop and gyms was rather limited but enough to encourage us to go outside and explore the world. At the end we just needed the name of the attraction and its relative location on the map. Naturally, we met some other players who were out there to reap the benefits of the PokeStops we were sharing. A side note here, the possibility that you will meet a Pokemon is higher when you hunt in packs or be at the same spot with many other players. The more the people, the more the fun… or shall we say the more the data, the more the gain for the app developers?
Going out is another element of the game, a fact that nobody will deny. With the amount of people spending time outside, we would assume that the game is predisposing more social contacts and face-to-face interaction. That is indeed the case. We had fun trying to catch some little monsters and engaged in small talks with other Pokemon trainers, which is very obvious short term effect. However, most of the time we spent talking to strangers while looking at our phones. In the long term the app is not really aiming to reconnect people but we see it already happening. Another question is the credibility and how many long lasting effects this game would have. Nintendo itself is downplaying the hype, but look around the advertising signs in the city and see what the release of a game by a giant company has had on the local city. And remember to think about playing with the data!
Graham, M., Zook, M. and Boulton, A. (2013), Augmented reality in urban places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38: 464–479. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00539.x
Xu, Xiaoge. 2016. Handbook of Research on Human Social Interaction in the Age of Mobile Devices. Hershey: Information Science Reference.