They come in ingenious shapes and colours and have names like Evoli, Dratini, Pikachu, Sewaddle, Bidoof, Pancham, Zigzagoon, Plusle, Eevee, etc, and they are the characters of Pokemon GO, the game referred to as a “social media phenomenon” which has brought together players from around the world since it was first released in July 2016.
Pokémon GO’s players use a mobile device’s GPS capability to locate, capture, and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player. The game was initially released in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, followed by Europe, Japan, Central and South America, and some countries in South Asia including Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Besides the entertaining effect, the game seems to have other benefits as well. Pokémon GO allows players to walk, explore and spend time in nature while searching for Pokémon. With the help of Google, the game’s developers identify highly trafficked, central locations for Pokéstops and gyms. The influx of players may also benefit local businesses in the nearby presence of PokéStops (or from being PokéStops themselves). The intense exploration of communities may be an opportunity to bring local history to the forefront, as Pokémon Go aims to encourage users to seek out local landmarks, such as parks and museums, and interact with them. In Brazil, the game was released on August 3rd making it available to tourists coming to the city for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
While Pokémon Go players aim to search for Pokémon everywhere, responsible tourism and ethics commend a certain attitude from both players and the developers of the game, such as showing respect for the tourist landmarks doubling as PokeStops, following a schedule appropriate for the location, and potentially limiting the amount of PokéStops at certain monuments or concentrate them elsewhere.
Like many forms of entertainment, Pokémon Go, aims to connect people. Certain areas in cities around the world have become meeting places for players. In New York City, for instance, one of the places most densely trafficked with players seems to be the stretch along 14th Street near NYU, while in Los Angeles, the Little Tokyo may be a favourite PokeStop attracting Pokémon crawls on weekends. In San Francisco, Mission Dolores area is one of the PokeStops, while London’s Holland Park may be one of the locations attracting numerous players looking to collect more Pokémon.
To keep the game fresh, the players engaged, and to preserve a sense of novelty, Pokémon GO’s spawning nests seem to constantly change worldwide. While the common types of Pokemon specific to an area seem to remain the same, the developers aim to rotate the more distinct spawn points to produce different kinds of Pokémon.
As Pokémon Go continues to evolve, the developers aim to add new features such as trading Pokémon between players and adding more Pokemon. Both of these changes may present tourism potential; trading may bring people together and enhance the length of stay at a PokéStop. Adding Pokémon may have the potential to create regional exclusives for each country and region, motivating players from around the world to travel in the pursuit to “catch ‘em all”.
In the spirit of the saying ‘the journey matters more than the destination’, Pokémon Go players have a chance to delight in the entertaining and innovative features of the game as well as take advantage of its adjacent benefits such as to challenge themselves to discover and explore new locations, meet fellow players, and create unique memories.
How may augmented reality games innovate the way people explore and travel to new locations?