By Shannon Flynn
Pokémon Go has officially become a worldwide phenomenon. Since the app launched on July 6, men, women, and children have been using their phones to search for Pokémon on streets, in parks, and at malls at all hours of the day and night. Each player hoping to “catch ‘em all” to become a Pokémon Master.
It’s addictive fun that combines the childhood nostalgia of Pikachu and Poké Balls with the latest advances in mobile gaming and augmented reality. The combination is resonating with the public. The app has already become “the biggest US mobile game ever” and, less than a week after its release, more people were searching online for “Pokémon Go” than for “porn.”
The game’s popularity is also leading to physical benefits. In order to catch Pokémon and hatch Pokémon eggs, players must walk around their community. As a result, fitness trackers have seen a significant spike in physical activity since the release of Pokémon Go. In fact, the spike in activity is similar to that seen during the first week in January, when New Year’s resolutions send people to the gym in droves.
The game has also resulted in mental health benefits by giving players the motivation they need to get out of the house and interact with other people. Children with autism are showing improved social skills, while players with anxiety and depression are motivated to leave their homes and are beginning to feel more comfortable socializing. These mental and physical benefits have not been found with traditional and sedentary forms of gaming.
Whether you’re playing as a Pokémon trainer or simply watching the transformation into a Pokémon world, it’s clear that this app has quickly turned into something much larger than anyone could have anticipated. Let’s take a look at the technology that makes this app possible and see what Pokémon Go means for the future of gaming.
VR versus AR – What’s the Difference?
Before we go any further, it makes sense to talk about the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality gaming. Virtual reality, or VR, gaming is a type of gameplay that allows players to experience and interact with a three-dimensional environment as a key component of the game.
Augmented reality, or AR, gaming can be thought of as virtual reality’s first cousin. With AR gaming, sensors and cameras work together with computer components and a display device to place virtual objects in the real world.
While virtual reality immerses you completely in a digital world, augmented reality places digital images and sounds into the world around you. Catching Pokémon in Pokémon Go is a prime example of augmented reality, with Rattatas and Zubats popping up everywhere from city streets to dinner tables.
Geolocation Data – The Building Blocks of Pokémon Go
Pokémon Go is introducing millions of people to augmented reality gaming for the first time; however, AR is not the most important feature of the game. In fact, many players turn off the AR feature to save battery life (a precious commodity among Pokémon Go players). However, there is one feature that is absolutely essential to gameplay – geolocation data.
The game relies on a wealth of geolocation data from real-world places and things. Without this data, players can’t find Pokémon, PokéStops, or gyms. Basically, there would be no game at all without it. A tragedy indeed.
So, where does all of this data come from?
Pokémon Go uses years of geolocation data from a game called Ingress. Not surprisingly, Ingress was built by Niantic Labs, the developer of Pokémon Go. In many ways, Pokémon Go is Ingress in Pokémon packaging. The game also uses Google Maps data. Again, this isn’t a surprise since Niantic Labs was a startup that formed inside of Google.
The use of geolocation data is one of the most appealing aspects of the game. Although Pokémon hunters are not welcome everywhere (let’s all agree that playing at the Holocaust Museum crosses a line), many businesses are welcoming and even rewarding players for visiting. In this win-win situation, businesses gain more customers and gamers can play in new locations, while getting exercise and meeting new people.
What Pokémon Go Means for the Future of Gaming
With the popularity of Pokémon Go reaching historic levels, many people are wondering how long the app’s appeal will last. Most apps are abandoned after less than three days, with some not even making it past the 24 hour mark. However, more than two weeks after its release, users are still passionately hunting for Pokémon. While this doesn’t guarantee longevity, it’s certainly a good sign for the app.
There’s an even more interesting question to come out of the popularity of Pokémon Go. What does the game mean for the future of gaming?
For starters, even if players lose interest in Pokémon Go, it’s unlikely that they will lose interest in games that utilize geolocation data and AR technology. Now that the public has gotten a taste of this technology, they’re only going to want more.
Two-thirds of American adults have a smart phone (and most of them are on it all the time). These smartphone users are seeking new and interesting ways to use their phones. Games that use geolocation data and augmented reality are just what the public is looking for.
For quite some time, developers have been working to make virtual reality mainstream. Some have even claimed that 2016 is “Year Zero” for virtual reality. However, after the success of Pokémon Go, it seems that this year actually more likely belongs to augmented reality.
Virtual reality is not as portable as augmented reality, and it separates users from other players. On the other hand, augmented reality brings players together, as it is much more portable. When combined with geolocation data, these types of games encourage players to go outside and meet people while they game, instead of staying seated in front of a computer or game console. Increased exercise and social interaction are two very positive side effects of this new type of gameplay.
The success of Pokémon Go has taught us several things. (1) The public is hungry for new, creative, and portable gaming options. (2) Games that combine geolocation data and augmented reality gameplay meet this demand, while producing tangible physical and mental health benefits. While it’s not clear what game will be the next big thing, it’s likely that the future of gaming will get players out of their homes and into the real world, exercising and socializing.
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