AR goes viral | Pokémon GO

Pokémon GOWhen we published our materials on Augmented Reality (AR) a few months ago it was quite hard to point to really compelling examples of AR.

And then, just over a week ago Pokémon Go was released in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Earlier this week it came to Germany and then yesterday it was released in the UK. The media interest in the last 10 days has been intense, hyperbolic even.

In case you have somehow missed all the excitement, Pokémon GO is an AR version of the classic Pokémon game, played on a smart phone, that, as the screenshot shows, inserts Pokémon characters  into the reality seen through a phone’s camera. The basic gameplay is that you walk around your locale using GPS to track and capture Pokémon. Other features are layered on to this foundation, some of which will be noted later in this post.

Now, I have never, ever played Pokémon in any form before yesterday, but my interest in AR led me to download it yesterday morning, as soon as it was available in the UK (I was actually watching out for it to be released on the UK app store – which is unusual behaviour for me…). And I have to report it is rather compelling. The basic game is free with in-app purchases, though it seems likely that sponsored content will appear in due course.

But why the media frenzy? Mainly because Pokémon GO is now the biggest mobile game in U.S. history, not only in the number of downloads but also by daily use – and it appears to be heading that way on this side of the Atlantic; last night the game became unplayable for a while as its servers struggled under the demand – a phenomenon that has repeated every time there is a new country launch. It has driven Nintendo’s value skyward and it’s so popular it looks as though around 22,000 people will turn up to a Pokémon GO ‘crawl’ in San Fransisco this Saturday (tomorrow).

What I think is really interesting about this is that for the first time we will get a sense of the implications of mass use of AR. The game appears to be driving traffic to real-world locations (for better or worse) including churches, police stations, Downing Street and a holocaust museum, raising the question of who owns the virtual space around your home. Some players seem to think no setting inappropriate.  On the other hand, a rather lovely story involves a 3am encounter between a middle-aged white player, two young black players and a police officer – though this is rather offset by the very plausible fears that the game could be a death sentence for a black man.

After just 10 days or so we have reports of a dead body being found by a teenager, planned muggings of players, a paedophile attempting to use the game to meet children, players being injured through inattentiveness to the real world, and risking injury by driving and playing (also in Australia). On the positive side, there’s the accidental exercise and the suggestion that playing brings mental health benefits.

And, of course, there have been the inevitable spoof stories of chaos caused by the game, conspiracy theories and even the accusation that it is a tool of Satan and ISIS. Regarding a more plausible real-world risk, it appears that initial concerns about the privacy settings in the app have now been resolved.

So, we definitely have a compelling example of AR now (there has been the claim it’s not proper AR, but for the purposes of our Disruptive Technologies project it counts). Opinions differ over whether the huge success will be maintained or it will turn out to be a flash in the pan. Either way I think there will be lessons we can learn about the potential for impact and disruptiveness from AR that may help us better predict the consequences of other proposed AR systems.

As far as schools are concerned, I have two thoughts; firstly if you want to introduce the idea of AR to your pupils as a Disruptive Technology then not only might Pokémon GO be a great way in but its success means that many will come to the topic with some understanding of the technology.

Secondly, watch out; the last days of term may well be infiltrated by a new distraction for your pupils – a different kind of disruption. Schools may want to warn their pupils (and carers) of the potential risks (see above) before the Summer holidays and note that the NSPCC is concerned.

Just in case you want more, here are some longer related articles:


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