The latest frontier of urban exploration has debuted few days ago with unexpected pygmalions: Pokemons. The launch of video game Pokemon Go turned our phones into playful tools to explore streets and interact with buildings and neighbourhoods in a different way… With side effects as well – watch the trailer.
Developed by Niantic, the video game draws players outside to explore their surroundings in search of Pokemons, cute creatures protagonists of an iconic Japanese cartoon of ‘the 90s. A Uber-like map geolocalises nearby pokemons that can be catched only by actually getting to the real physical place. Once there, augmented reality takes over by switching the screen from the map to the phone camera. A Pokemon super imposed in 3D appears overlaid on the real streetscape. You can catch it by tapping on the screen to throw a Pokeball at it.
The game was praised worldwide for bringing augmented reality to the masses, raising players’ awareness of local interest points and for prompting in-person socialisation by making players meet. Of note to Architizer readers, “this sensation also has the potential to connect everyday people to the architecture around them in ways never before possible”.
Indeed the game maps monuments, historic buildings and streetscape architectural details providing informative descriptions. Players, aka Pokemon Trainers, are also invited to compete in catching the same Pokemon, join forces or duel. To do that they must physically walk to the same spot and engage in a virtual task… tapping their mobile screens while standing next to each others.
But will people really explore their cities while catching Pokemons here and there? Will they discover more of their neighborhood architectural details or they will just wonder around looking at their phones? Will they really make new friends or it will just be about drifters bumping into each other?
One day Boon Sheridan (@boonerang on Twitter) woke up finding out that his house had become a Pokemon gym, a place where players can train to get more skills and score more points. The result was having 15-20 people wondering on his lawn like rabdomants with a phone in their hands. The U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Arlington Cemetery had to explicitly ask to Pokemon Trainers to refrain from their quests when visiting. And here below you can watch a late night Pokemon hunt in Central park after a rare creature has been spotted. Ehm…
What about augmented reality? So far it has been an impressive technology “only on paper”. Many of the recently launched visionary projects didn’t really go mainstream. In 2014 Ikea launched the app Place Ikea that allows to place virtual furniture in homes with the help of augmented reality (watch video). Even LEGO® went A.R. with Lego Fusion: you build a facade and the apps turns it into a 3D building to then plunge you in a parrallel on-line videogame. Augmented reality is also a bragging tool that allows architects to impress their clients with special apps, hololens, etc. Google Glasses went hype, but at the end the project never made it to the shelves… So far augmented reality “has been crying wolf”, but it took Pikachu to get it back on track.
On Dezeen, game consultant Alex Whiltsheer wonders how long Pokémon Go‘s layer of play will be draped over the world, and whether it will inspire similar and equally popular games to come in the future. “Will players want to keep getting up and walking in order to play and progress? How long will this flavour of augmented reality remain fresh? Has it set new expectations for the kinds of interactions people expect to have with the world and games?”
Developed from AR game Ingress, Pokemon Go was launched by Niantic in collaboration with Pokemon Company (with Nintendo investing in both). Niantic founder John Hanke was also behind Keyhole, a company that was acquired by Google and then renamed Google Earth. On its two days after the launch, the App became more popular then Twitter. So far, it is available in many countries including US, Australia, Italy, Spain and New Zealand.
It is not available in the United Kingdom yet, as the Government has urged the app’s makers to add safety measures before its release, warning that adults could use it to prey on children. In the meantime, Pikachu has been spotted on 10 Downing Street just ahead of Theresa May’s first appearance as prime minister.
Safety is a primary matter related to the game as well. Every time you switch the app on, it reminds you to be aware of your surroundings and play responsibly. Better not to get run over in case your pokemon hunt requires you to cross a street or better not to go alone in isolated places to battle with an unknown real player that could have other intentions.