Sydney PhD candidate explains what Pokémon Go can tell us about augmented reality experiences

From university campuses to public parks and suburban spaces, Pokémon Go is seemingly everywhere—including the OzTREKK office: yesterday we caught Zubat and Kakuna!
Kyle Moore, a doctoral candidate in the University of Sydney’s Department of Media and Communications, is researching urban mobile gaming.

what can Pokémon Go tell us about augmented reality experiences
PhD candidate Kyle Moore outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Circular Quay. Augmented reality is changing gamers’ experience of public spaces, says the urban gaming researcher (Photo credit: University of Sydney)

The research has focused largely on players of Ingress, a massively multiplayer augmented reality game developed by Niantic, and has in recent months included field and beta testers of Pokémon Go. Kyle’s thesis explores how gaming can influence players’ understandings of urban environments.

What does Pokémon Go reveal about augmented reality and the future of gaming?
“We’ve seen this happen with the success of mobile games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, which both became hugely successful and symbolic of a new gaming audience. Similarly, Pokémon Go reveals gamers’ willingness to adopt new forms of technology, like augmented reality and location-awareness, which previously were very peripheral to everyday mobile gaming and more common amongst experimental, artistic, or even gimmicky mobile games,” says Kyle.

Your PhD looks at the emerging technological phenomenon of urban mobile gaming. Is Pokémon Go a breakthrough or a fad?
“In terms of the technology, Pokémon Go is similar to a range of other games that have been released. These were often experimental, playing around with the capabilities and limits of the devices. Both Nintendo and Niantic labs have used these technologies before. Nintendo, with their Nintendo 3DS portable console, has a number of built-in and downloadable augmented reality games, while Niantic are best known for their successful alternate-reality game Ingress. Pokémon Go has certainly reached a viral status—whether or not this will fade away remains be seen. Without a doubt there will be numerous clone games pushing the limits of these emerging technologies.”

How are augmented reality games changing our public spaces?
“Numerous stories about the dangers of playing Pokémon Go rightly signal that refusing to acknowledge the space we are in can in fact have consequences,” says Kyle, “and that games should no longer be considered outside of these parameters.”

“The popularity of the game means we need to rethink our engagement with traditional spaces of play and leisure, such as parks and playgrounds, as well as spaces where play has traditionally been seen as subversive—city spaces in general. It’s also important to consider the implications this has for spaces outside the city, for those in rural or suburban spaces, who will have difficulty playing in these familiar spaces, and the impact traveling to play will have on these groups.”

Pokémon Go is essentially a toy. What makes it so popular with adults?
“It’s difficult to avoid putting it all down to nostalgia and 20 years of fan engagement,” says Kyle.

“But then again, I can’t deny that this would have had a huge impact on the widespread adoption of the game. Those who would have played Pokémon in the late 1990s now have increased mobility—they are able to freely move across and through city spaces, generally they are able afford mobile devices, and manage their free time.

“The game also appears to be hugely popular with children, whose parents may have never played a Pokémon game growing up. I’ve seen parents teaching their children how to effectively use their device to catch Pokémon, and vice-versa. There is a cross generational element to the game, which links towards shared ownership and literacies of mobile devices—that parents and children learn from these shared experiences.”

What are the developments to look out for in augmented reality?
“For augmented reality, we can probably hope to see more sophisticated modes of layering. Generally, this technology can read from codes, similar to a QR code, to give grounding to an image. This technology may feasibly be able to read buildings or landmarks in a similar way.”

Kyle adds: “In terms of developments for Pokémon Go, there is talk of using near field communication (NFC) as a means of trading between mobile devices. For augmented reality and location-based games in general, we may see more integration of location-awareness, in both mobile devices and potentially in portable gaming devices too. Alongside this, portable devices like the PlayStation Vita allow for 3G networks, which may be useful in real-time networked game play and location-awareness.”

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