Pokemon.Go Mania

Unless you have been under a rock somewhere—a rock with no Internet connectivity—you have already heard about the phenomenal explosion of Pokemon Go, the outdoor AR game.

As someone who has been studying and doing AR for a long time now, this has been déjà vu all over. The Pokemon game is pretty similar to what was done in labs ten years ago, and I have described similar ideas many times.

The whole world has finally caught up, and is discovering both the coolness and the open questions about AR in public spaces. Local police/parents/vice principles are tsk-tsking, and lecturing ‘kids’ on the dangers (physical and moral) of wandering gormlessly around town, paying more attention to the game than to the world around them. Idiots in Florida  blazing away at Pokemoning kids. People playing Pokemon while driving–and running into a police car. Museums are less than completely amused by this form of digital graffiti smeared over their sacred spaces. And so on.

It’s amazing that I haven’t heard about anyone dying yet.

By the way, it this is disruptive on a smartphone, how much worse will the head mounted version be?

The success has also attracted the worst sorts, i.e., sleazy capitalists. Apparently, a small industry has sprung up of people who will play the game for you, taking care of the boring work (i.e., the game), so you can thereby have an accomplished character without spending the time and effort. This is seen by some as a glorious vindication of the technical infrastructure of the ‘gig’ economy, which enables all the two bit hustlers in the world to get in on anything, anywhere, with almost no skill or effort.

I have to wonder about anyone who would pay someone to play Pokemon for him or her. I mean, what’s the point? I guess some people have money to burn, and not much upstairs.

Soon, I’m sure, there will be people you can pay to keep Pokemon players away from your space. (“Pokemon.Stop”, as Jessi Klein has suggested.) And so on.

The important question, though, is why Pokemon, and why now? After all, I, and others have imagined, proposed, and prototyped similar experiences long ago.  But nothing has caught on like this.

Obviously, smartphone technology has achieved the horsepower and ubiquity to make it easy to blast this game out into the world. But that threshold was passed years ago.

I think Pokemon’s success this month really has nothing to do with AR or mobile technology.

Pokemon is a perennial favorite game, in all its guises. With good reason. Which makes the Pokemon AR a great AR game (with a preexisting ocean of fans), even if it is mechanically similar to other, less successful titles.

It’s just that simple.

Great games win, in every technology.

If you were expecting something more profound from me, I’m afraid I don’t have anything more to say.

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