Pokémon Go and Augmented Reality

Curator's Note

Augmented Reality, (AR), as of 2013, seemed to have everything it needed to take over videogames. With the proliferation of cellular phones and handheld game devices with cameras, the technology necessary to juxtapose 3D models on physical space was not only available but ubiquitous. The mythology behind AR spans back over two decades, with utopian visions of surgeons with anatomical HUD’s, fighter pilots using enhanced mapping technology, and text books exploding into animated 3D space. Yet by 2014, many declared AR to have died a quiet death. The killer was AR’s leaner, meaner cousin, Virtual Reality (VR). VR allows users to interact with digital spaces by physically moving their bodies and it has been backed by industry giants like Google, Facebook, and Samsung.

As with any emergent technology, VR and AR represent subtle but profound variations on how technology might shape culture. VR belonged to a realm of immersive content and became tied to the imagery of hardcore gamers. The hardcore model markets toward an elite core of dedicated consumers. When people think of a typical gamer, many think of a basement dwelling shut in, content to abstain from social interaction in favor of digital fantasy.

AR on the other hand, follows a trajectory mirrored by casual games. These games have low barriers of entry, encourage social interaction, and tend to be cheap or free. AR has become tied to casual games in part thanks to the breakaway hit casual game Pokémon GO. Pokemon Go draws in an enormously broad demographic in part because many already had the technology to play it. The appeal of Pokemon Go, I argue, is not immersive play or realistic graphics, but rather the virtual community of players that hunt and battle by your side. Pokemon Go eschews the notion that gamers must huddle away in their room, asocial and immersed in fantasy. Rather, we are already attaching our hopes of a social, engaged community of gamers/citizens to Pokemon Go and subsequently, Augmented Reality as a technological paradigm.

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