This time last week, Pokémon was entirely not on my radar (too old to have got involved first time around), then gradually material started filtering through on my social media feeds as people around the world were playing it – and I Googled to find out ‘what is it?‘ It is a massively multiplayer mobile game that uses real-world geography and location data as an anchor for its fictional narrative. If that ‘proper’ explanation doesn’t work for you – this comedy version helps some:
There was the much expected kind of grumpy response – which to be fair, probably crossed my mind too:
As always, there are the complaints that this is taking people from ‘real life’, that people are becoming aimless zombies – and then this satiric story is so possible it caught me out, but I am quite encouraged at hearing the stories of people getting out and about … certainly got me out for about 9km of walking yesterday that I hadn’t planned on (according to my iPhone Health app)!
There were people who had downloaded via workarounds, and various churches already seeing the potential missional benefits, but on Thursday Pokémon Go officially launched in the UK, and decided to try and understand the potential of the game – catching my first Pokémon – a Squirtle – almost immediately. Thursday evening, at a Manchester Digital event, it was subject of several conversations, particularly with a concern for how it could be applied within marketing, hearing of how 30-minutes ‘lures’ were being sent out by lunch-shops, attracting Pokémon to the area, and thus attracting hungry Pokémon hunters to the area.
Pokémon Go is an the first augmented reality app to hit mainstream – using a mix of digital data overlaid on ‘real-world’ data to provide an ‘enhanced’ and interactive experience for the user – it’s been used pretty successfully in museums for a while.
<edit>Extra links being collected on Wakelet</edit>
Experimenting with Pokemon
So, a Pokemon is a ‘pocket monster’, that one needs to catch. Some are likely to come to where you are, but the real incentive is to get out and about to go and find the Pokemon. One either needs to keep an eye on the map – where a Pokemon will appear surrounded by circles, or your phone will vibrate.
The game will then swap to camera mode, and you will need to try and catch the Pokemon using the Pokemon balls supplied (pull back with finger and let fly). Higher points can be achieved by capturing the Pokemon when the green circle is smallest. The Pokemon seem to stay pretty still, although there’s no guarantee that they will remain caught until it says ‘gotcha’, but once they do you’ll receive a ‘congratulations’ message along with a load of statistical data about what you’ve caught, and your Pokedex will keep track of what you’ve collected:
The supply of Pokemon balls and other game playing equipment is not endless, but there are plenty of Poke-Stops around – which one needs to get to. They’ll be identifiable as a blue diamond spinning within a circle. Click on it, and then – this is the bit I couldn’t work out til I’d Googled it – and there’s plenty of Google information available – spin it. Whatever the ‘goodies’ are will appear in bubbles, which then need to be popped to be collected (if it’s not working, the servers may have crashed again – keep an eye on this Twitter account).
Poke-Stops take around 5 minutes to refresh and then can be re-activated for more goodies. I’m not sure how far apart these are in rural areas, but in urban areas, they are not all a massive distance apart. The software has used some kind of algorithm to work out what might count as a Poke-Stop – train stations, pubs, churches, iconic artwork, etc. all seem to be likely!
I’ve not been able to experience a Poke-Gym yet, as you need to reach Level 5, and I’m only at Level 4, to engage. The algorithm seems to pick places there are central/tourist-like for these kind of places.
Once in, I understand that you’ll use the Pokemon (and any other tools) you’ve collected in order to try and fight to ‘win’ the poke-gym.
At Poke-stops I’ve collected a number of eggs. These need to be hatched by walking a certain distance (but, without spending money, I only have one incubator) .. yesterday I more than walked the distance, but unfortunately the servers were hacked and were down for 3-4 hours, and therefore the extended amount of walking that I did didn’t count, and I’ve not yet had time to go out for more … but you see a theme emerging here – getting people out and about in pursuit of items that are incredibly ephemeral and location-based – apparently as intended by the CEO of the company!
It was quite amusing yesterday evening, having turned on BBC1’s #Pointless, to discover that so many people were tweeting about now that #PokemonGo wasn’t working, there was no point going outside again! This is one of the reasons I am not overly excited about having a fitbit … I want to go out for walks, etc. when I want to – enticement can help, but the slave-driving whip of the step-counter not so much!
One of the other options available on Pokemon is the opportunity to use ‘Incense’, which sends out a ‘signal’ for 30 minutes to attract Pokemon to where you are – indicated by pink vapour surrounding you. Two come free with the account – with the first I attracted around 5 Pokemon (low-value from what I can tell), the second only seemed to bring 2 in.
There’s also other lures, but not tried those…
I think it’s time for me to read this ‘Complete beginner’s guide‘ from TechRadar – which will probably make more sense now I’ve had a go, as I’ve no idea of the different values, haven’t yet hatched an egg, or gained enough levels to play in a gym – so there’s plenty to learn, if desired – and if one can find the time!
Is it problematic?
With the destination of poke-stops, etc. sorted by an algorithm, there have been issues over the placement of some – including Holocaust museums – again, I can see this as human awareness of their surroundings, and I wouldn’t choose to play in that zone (to be fair, we had similar debates when I was travelling 8 years ago, whether we should take photos at e.g. Cambodian torture sites). This guy’s response to people trying to get onto his land has gone viral!
One of the concerns about Pokemon is that it leads to a whole load of people wandering around like zombies – and there certainly have been reports of accidents for those playing it, although these are human behavioural problems, right? The technology – at the startup of every log-in – reminds users to remain alert and pay attention to their surroundings …
There have also been concerns over privacy of data (see 30-day opt out option), especially with so much geographical data given/linked to Google accounts, and the use of lures to draw unwary users in, in the chase for the rarer Pokemon.. or those unwary users waving expensive phones around inappropriately… oh, and it totally drains your phone battery.
Other concerns would relate to addiction (always a big topic, especially related to gaming – see radio programme I contributed to), and to the cost of playing. The app is free, and much can be done for free … but as always, those who are particularly competitive are likely to want to pay to progress – there’s already a market for resale accounts, but there’s also a shop. One can buy Pokecoins, and then with those Pokecoins buy extra balls, incense, lures, eggs, incubators, etc. – an article in the Telegraph lays out the details pretty well.
There’s options in settings to add/remove music, and other settings – I’d look for more, but apparently the Pokemon server is down again – something so popular is clearly a prime target for hackers to take down. The game made $14million dollars in its first week – but the question is whether this is going to be sustainable beyond the first flush of success!
Pokémon: An evil the church should avoid?
As is usual when new technology is involved, there is a notion that this is something evil that should be avoided, though this one takes it to new lengths:
“The enemy, Satan, is targeting churches with virtual, digital, cyber-demons,” Wiles said, before adding: “I believe this thing is a magnet for demonic powers.” Rick Wiles
Thankfully others are taking a more positive step – LLM Calling gives some useful advice, whilst the CofE has placed information on their Tumblr, which the BBC also picked up. The story of churches ‘luring’ people in against their will does tend to make the headlines – although this one also gives a key insight that you don’t need to be that close/in the building to necessarily use the Poke-stop or Poke-Gym, so think carefully about how you might engage!
As the image on the right demonstrates, the opportunity to be a Poke-Stop or a Poke-Gym has been given to many churches (I do believe you can apply, but there’s probably a big queue right now!). So what might be good ways to make use of this ‘opportunity’ – well, I guess:
- Prominently post a sign that you’re an official Poke-Stop/Gym and consider offering refreshments for those who have walked many kilometers, and power-up options for those whose batteries are running low.
- Make sure sign boards, etc. are up to date re what the church does – both service wise and in the community, and any links to digital.
- Don’t assume that just because people are in your ‘zone’ that they’re interested in what you have to offer/are a captive audience.
- Demonstrate a sense of humour, as this church in the US did:
Online, there has been plenty of opportunities for humour/memes:
… and don’t forget the ‘appropriate’ sermons – I believe the lost sheep has been doing pretty well!
Dangerous for children?
On p174 of Raising Children in a Digital Age I wrote:
We need to understand, too, that it’s not either a computer or the outdoors any more: with mobile devices it can be both. Outdoor activities that involve digital devices include geocaching (a digital treasure hunt using GPS), or learning about “wild things” in your local area, e.g. Project Wild Thing, which uses geolocation to encourage kids back into nature, or piques their imagination by reading about elephants before visiting/at the zoo. Before blaming the technology, think about what other factors might be involved:
They spend a lot more time on their own interacting with other people virtually rather than in real life. My youngest child spends a lot less time getting exercise or in the fresh air, though that may partly be an aspect of his personality rather than solely the fault of technology.
(Parent, 16 to 18, 19 or over)
Pokemon Go seems to fit within this encouraging mix of online and offline, although this critic isn’t so sure – thinking that there are ‘better ways’ to engage with nature/’the real world’. However, I’ve certainly seen elements of my surrounding that I may not have noticed otherwise, and social media friends have met new people, enjoyed social media conversations, and discovered new parks in the area (the kind of location that is designated a Poke-stop!). I had not noticed either of these artistic works which were designated Poke-stops:
Like the story of the Rembrandt painting, this kind of use of technology is often misunderstood (and the press often wants to take the worst view) – so I enjoyed this:
If you’re worried, then the NSPCC have produced this helpful material: Pokémon Go: a parent’s guide, but let’s finish with a good news story: Tearful mum thanks Pokémon Go for changing autistic boy’s life
So should you?
I’ve enjoyed some fun conversations with people online, watched parents being dragged out for walks by their kids, and I can see real potential in this kind of thing. Me, I lose interest in a lot of things pretty quickly, so this interest may not last for me, but ask me in a couple of months! Meantime, here’s some positive things you can contribute to society whilst also playing Pokemon.
If Pokemon is not your thing – how about trying Ingress, built by the same developers – and indicated by a reviewer as a much more enticing game, and on Twitter #WeNeedHarryPotterGo is currently trending!
All pictures either taken by me, or taken from shares on Facebook.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.