Pokemon Go: A New Way to Play in the City

The release of Pokémon Go has marked 2016 as the first successful launch of an immersive augmented reality game, blending the lines between the on- and off-screen worlds.

Pokémon Go could be a game changer for how we interact within our cities and, as a result, has created a frenzy of buzz around the world.  In our technology-focused society, the game has paired our phone habits with the outside world.

Residents are seeking neighbourhoods where they can live, work and play in one area, a shift of values within neighbourhoods that is becoming more apparent and clear with each passing year. Most residents seek to live in an accessible neighbourhood with “city-amenities,” such as parks, galleries, local shops and restaurants, instead of that iconic dream of a white picket fence home and Pokémon Go has simply highlighted this shift in values. Users can play all across the city and, in fact, the game encourages exploring different and new areas to catch different Pokémon. As a result, users are learning about hidden gems of spaces within their cities.

So, what is driving the popularity of this game?

For many Millennials, the game brings back some nostalgia of their younger years; the days of playing the Pokémon cards at recess, rushing home from school to watch the Pokémon TV series and then those lucky enough to own a Gameboy. Now, anyone can play this dearly loved Pokémon game on their phones and participate within the game for the first time ever, physically trying to ‘catch ‘em all.’

As a concept, the game presents a new technology that can be used to explore and become more immersed in neighbourhoods. Virtual reality itself isn’t a new concept, but what is innovative about this game is the accessibility factor. With the at-home gear for virtual reality, like the oculus rift, users must purchase the expensive gear and hardware to even be able to participate. Users no longer need to sit inside and play console games, nor invest heavily in gaming gear; they can enter and experience the game with their smartphone. It’s a huge transformation from the traditional gaming experience to a more active, participatory role.

Pokémon Go and augmented reality games alike seem to generate more opportunities to play within particular areas – more opportunities to ‘catch ’em all’ seem to pop up as more users are participating in a central location. It could be interesting to look at how the city could respond to the rise of such a gaming experience, and how it could assist in the future planning of the city, specifically how residents like to participate within their city spaces, and how people are interacting with parks and streetscapes.

With the rise of pedestrianization and a focus on efforts like creating more accessible park space, which was created in response to residents wanting to actively experience their neighbourhood spaces. In the past, the focus on “city as amenity” was not as present in how people assessed their ideal space. So, looking at the overwhelming buzz and participation from Pokémon Go users, should the city plan to include such spaces for these augmented reality games? Or, will this be a fad that is here today and gone tomorrow?

Some may argue that users of games like this are not truly experiencing and connecting within the city spaces.  With heads bent down over screens, running from one spot to the next without even acknowledging and connecting with other fellow Pokémon gamers. Police even warn users to be cautious of being led into hazardous situations, even going so far to remind drivers to not catch while driving. They have even created the new hashtag, #DontCatchAndDrive.

Can a game like this encourage people to interact more with spaces around them?