Pokémon Go, the new augmented reality game developed by Niantic, Inc for iOS and Android, once again is revolutionizing the history of videogames and applications, transforming users into trainers who travel no longer in an imagined territory, digital and distant as in the past, but in the real world. After its recent arrival in Chile, we began to see the first repercussions of the worldwide phenomenon with our streets, squares and parks full of players who returned to public spaces evoking, at a distance, the mass occupation of old hunting grounds that two centuries ago led to the opening and shaping of our first public parks.
I want to start by defining my position before developing some ideas about the most revolutionary, popular video game widely covered by the media (and at the same time, the most downloaded application in history) and its relationship with the landscape. Although I am not a player, I do consider myself an observer intrigued by the effects of the application and, above all, what it implies and establishes in relation to the re-territorialization of digital media.
First, a brief introduction for our readers who have lived the phenomenon at a distance. Pokémon derives from the abbreviation for Pocket Monsters and originates from a video game created in 1996 by Satoshi Tajiri, which two years later would inspire an anime series of the same name. In the series, the leading player Ash Ketchum makes a trip to become a Pokémon Master during which he must catch Pokémon of different skills that will help him win battles and, with these, medals that will increase his degree as a trainer. His first Pokémon is the famous Pikachu, with which he develops a relationship of respect and friendship. The different Pokémon are formally similar to animals and insects and according to their habitat and abilities are associated with types, equivalent to elements and natural phenomena such as water, earth, fire and electricity.
Pokémon Go, the new augmented reality game developed by Niantic, Inc. for Android and iOS, innovates in its own way, transforming users into trainers to take a trip − no longer through imagined and digital territory − but through the real world. To do this, the player must search for pokémon around the city, making use of the virtual map (Waze-style) where the blocks and streets are marked and buildings and public spaces are visualized in different colors along with other elements that re-signify these places as pokéstops and the gymnasiums of training and battle (1).
(1) See Pokémon (animé) in <https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_(anime)#Pok.C3.A9mon>.
The euphoria has been such that we have all witnessed and many have also participated as worldwide players and onlookers went out to walk through their neighborhoods on the same night the application opened. It was only a couple of days later that a young Chilean, already sensing the origin of the database that influenced the distribution of the pokéstops and corroborating on the ground with his friends regarding the coincidences, elaborated his own georeferenced map, representing with pokéballs the locations, as shown in Figure 3 (2).
(2) See “Joven chileno crea mapa con la supuesta ubicación de todas las ‘Poképaradas’ de Santiago” (Young Chilean creates a map with the supposed location of all the Pokéstops in Santiago) in T13 <http://www.t13.cl/noticia/tendencias/tecnologia/joven-chileno-se-juega-y-crea-mapa-ubicacion-todas-pokeparadas-santiago>.
Here is where the power and revolution of Pokémon Go is revealed: the game has inserted itself into the public space both in person and in representation. For example, parks, squares and in general those places considered “green areas,” are indicated in dark green, and it is in these places where there is a greater amount and variety of pokémon, pokéstops, gyms, etc. This is why people go to these places to play, as shown by a recent recording at the Stadtpark in Vienna, on July 25 at 5:00 PM local time. In other words, a dynamic belonging to the domestic sphere, physical solitude and a sedentary lifestyle moves to the territory of the real and the realm of perceptual experience. Recreation and social encounters in squares, parks, and city streets which had been abandoned by a sector of society, are reincorporated into contemporary dynamics and at surprising times. At the same time, many children not old enough to be on the streets alone or have portable internet devices go out with their parents or older siblings to take a walk in order to capture a pokémon. Added to this, it is not only possible to find more people in parks, but also at other times, mainly after working hours and even in the wee hours of the morning, increasing the sense of security in the spaces thanks to the meeting of so many players who are fortuitously doing the same activity.
In this way the game manages to transform the social and mobility dynamics of people, thus acquiring unparalleled power in this realm. Based on this, it is interesting to imagine how this and other games could enhance, for example, large scale tourism, thanks to the convening power of a technology that reopened public spaces on a mass scale. How many would be able to reach hidden, sublime and distant places? Or simply, how many would be interested in visiting urban parks in their neighborhoods and/or far from their homes, heritage sites, national parks and museums that did not previously attract their attention? In fact, one tourist company in Santiago Go Turistik already created a tour to get to know the city and catch pokémon, offering mobile internet to the participants (3).
(3) See “Pokémon GO: Empresa crea tour por Santiago en el que ayuda a atrapar pokémones” (Business creates a tour through Santiago that helps capture Pokémons) in T13 <http://www.t13.cl/noticia/nacional/tendencias/pokemon-go-empresa-crea-tour-santiago-ayuda-atrapar-pokemones>.
Here is where the transmission of augmented reality reaches its maximum expression: it is the possibility to systematize certain aspects of the game allowing the relationships among the elements involved to be revealed. …”the hunt is possible because there is an appropriate setting (the public space) where the hunter, the hound, and the prey can intermingle.” As a result, during the trainer-pokémon interaction “the public space becomes an action scene that acquires its identity from experience” making itself known through the combined use of reason and the senses, while offering a landscape that provides the appropriate surface for the capture to occur (4). Although Pokémon Go is not a traditional hunt, the activity of catching Pokémon not only involves tracking, but also taking possession of a virtual and a real site and even adapting occupancy patterns.
(4) Translated from quotes and analogies with hunting and its role in landscape modeling obtained from article by Romy Hecht, “De caza con el Rey” (Hunting with the King) in ARQ 74 “El ocio” (April 2010) p 78–81.
Finally, I propose we should imagine how this type of augmented reality game, which makes the digital world interact with tangible space, can generate new landscape typologies. While many of us are reluctant to accept the concept of living in the public and open space through the screen of a cellphone, it is interesting to assume the potential of the mode in which this application operates. Who knows if tomorrow, some gamer-explorers, looking for pokémon in a national park during one of the Pokémon events (organized in particular locations) might discover some places that their recreational interests would never have moved them to discover.
(2) People of Magallanes, the first Chileans to play Pokémon Go © Noticias Terra <https://noticias.terra.cl/tecnologia/patagonicos-se-convierten-en-los-primeros-chilenos-en-jugar-pokemon-go,7de68456169ac5f54a9494c597840438pvuu29j5.html>
(3) Mapping pokéstops in Santiago according to Miguel Acuña © T13 <http://www.t13.cl/noticia/tendencias/tecnologia/joven-chileno-se-juega-y-crea-mapa-ubicacion-todas-pokeparadas-santiago>
(4) Outdoor Pokémon © Huracán Joven <www.huracanjoven.es>
(5) Pokémon Go in Tokyo, Japan © Tokyo Times <http://wordpress.tokyotimes.org/tokyo-a-new-augmented-reality/>
(6) Meeting July 28 in Puerta del Sol, Madrid, meeting place originally planned for Parque del Retiro but changed to avoid damaging the Park© Blog Ocio El Economista <http://blogocio.eleconomista.es/la-pokequedada-de-pokemon-go-en-madrid-bate-record-mundial-no-98183/>
(7) Players in Chile’s Parque Forestal © Noticias Terra <https://noticias.terra.cl/tecnologia/video-parque-forestal-es-invadido-por-jugadores-de-pokemon-go, 22beb12cc4eb5ddfbcbf7e007b080e70byayjkd1.html>
(video) Stadtpark in Vienna (Monday July 25, 2016 at 5:00 PM.) © José Antonio Romero I. for Lofscapes