Pokémon Go – Possibilities and problems for augmented reality and the environment

Pokémon Go in action. Source: https://pixabay.com/en/pokemon-pokemon-go-pocket-monster-1543353/ (last accessed 3 August 2016)

Pokémon Go in action. Source: https://pixabay.com/en/pokemon-pokemon-go-pocket-monster-1543353/ (last accessed 3 August 2016)

by David Adams

There is currently a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the recently released Pokémon Go.  It has been a great hit in many parts of the world: players walk around seeking out hidden monsters overlaid on the world around them, whilst tracking down real-life locations ‘tagged’ as stops in the game.  It is estimated that the game has been downloaded 15 million times since its release at the beginning of July.[i]  Gaming technology, as many would attest, has rich potential for a variety of disciplines and professions, and this recent example has been heralded by some as being something that encourages people, especially youngsters, to engage with the built and natural environment in new and exciting ways.[ii]  But the recent experience of Pokémon Go also raises some provocative questions about how individuals relate to their real-world environments.  For example, it has been reported that property owners have recalcitrant gamers loitering outside their houses; whilst there are very real safety fears about how people should play the game.[iii]  Others have registered their displeasure when Pokémon emerged at very sensitive locations such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum.[iv]

The game also highlights some wider theoretical and practical questions about the relationship between augmented reality and the real world.  We know, of course, that the physical boundaries of property, from the air above, the ground below, and the sea, have been long been debated in the courts.  But, as Rutkin, recently points out, what about digital boundaries and individuals’ right to any virtual space in around property?[v]  If anything, therefore, what this high-profile game tells us, is that how the physical world and the virtual world are managed.  Repeated visitors to a site in search of a Pokémon monster can cause nuisance, thus interfering with a property owner’s right to enjoy their property;[vi] whilst there is also a potential case for negligence if a company fails to respond to a problem that the augmented reality game has created.  Of course, it is in the best interests of companies involved with developing augmented reality products to address these and other issues before they reach the courts.  On a more positive note, though, this example of augmented reality does offer productive ground for anyone with an interest in encouraging people to use data and technology to connect with and reflect on the environment in innovative ways.

[i] Rutkin, A. (2016) ‘Help, my yard’s a Pokéstop’, in The New Scientist, 23 July, p. 22.

[ii] Dodds, L. (2016) ‘Pokemon Go players aren’t ignoring reality. We’re changing it’, in The Telegraph 21 July.  Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/pokmon-go-players-arent-ignoring-reality-were-changing-it/ (last accessed 22 July 2016).

[iii] McCurry, J. (2016) ‘Pokémon Go launches in Japan amid safety warnings’, in The Guardian 22 July.  Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/22/pokemon-go-launches-in-japan-amid-safety-warnings (last accessed 22 July 2016).

[iv] Phys.org (2016) ‘Auschwitz museum says no to Pokemon Go’.  Available from: http://phys.org/news/2016-07-auschwitz-memorial-pokemon.html (last accessed 22 July 2016).

[v] Rutkin, A. (2016) ‘Help, my yard’s a Pokéstop’, in The New Scientist, 23 July, p. 22.

[vi] Cain, P. (2016) ‘Overenthusiastic Pokemon Go players may risk trespass charges’.  Available from: http://globalnews.ca/news/2834081/overenthusiastic-pokemon-go-players-may-risk-trespass-charges/ (last accessed 22 July 2016).

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