We touched briefly on Pokémon Go in one of our early classes and talked about what it has managed to accomplish, as well as the some of the challenges it has faced. It’s been great for small businesses who drop lures to attract customers, it’s helped people become more active, and generally gotten people out into the world in a positive way. It’s an interesting topic to think about, considering how much of a world-wide phenomenon that it turned out to be, but for me it never amounted to much more than a thought experiment. I have never played the game, and I don’t have a desire to try it out. Despite playing the original games pretty actively when I was young, “catching them all” has never appealed to me.
But I recently came across the above video, which an analysis of the app from the perspective of (from what I can tell) game designers. It’s fun and cartoony, but I also found it to be a pretty comprehensive look into the future of the whole alternate reality game (ARG) genre.
What caught my attention was their suggestion that you could easily use the Pokémon Go format for non-Pokémon applications. What if instead of finding and catching monsters, you were discovering historic sites? What if you could point your phone at a building and find a biography of the architect who designed it? What if coffee shops allowed you to find and collect songs from local musicians? What if you could visit the birthplace of your favourite athletes and download an exclusive interview only available at that location? All of a sudden, ARGs aren’t just for video game fans on a nostalgia trip, they’re for everyone with any kind of niche interest. They get you out into the world, and create a social environment only possible through this media form. People meet countless other Pokémon trainers while they’re playing the game. The same could be done for countless other areas of interest.
Of course, this same model existed long before Pokémon Go. Geocachers have been playing these ARGs for over 15 years now, only their game exists exclusively in the physical world. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I wrote a little summary of the game for a summer activity magazine earlier this year. One huge development that I’ve noticed from geocaching to Pokémon Go is the idea of exclusivity. Geocachers prefer to operate in secret. In order to protect their caches from the wider world, they are hesitant to talk to those outside of the community. If someone confronts you about why you’re poking around in the bushes, a “true” geocacher wouldn’t spill any secrets.
When this kind of game enters the digital world however, this exclusivity disappears. Pokémon Go players don’t have to protect their caches because they don’t actually exist. They can’t be vandalized. This, I think, is what allows for the social aspect of the game. Pokémon Go players are more than eager to talk about their catches and publically share where each “cache” was found.
I really love the model of Pokémon Go, and I think that there is a huge potential for it to become more than just a fad. I want to explore my community, I want to socialize with like-minded neighbors, and I want to get out an be active while doing something I love. I just wish that there were other ways to do that besides gathering anime monsters from my childhood.