Week 8 – Digital Urban Gaming

The speed of the IoT is truly astonishing. I remember the first time I heard about Pokémon GO and finding the whole concept mind-blowing, having even trouble wrapping my head around the fact that little monsters were coexisting with us, in a digital world that was invisible to the naked eye, unless we used an app to make them come to life. “But who put them there? Why is one in my bathroom!?”

Everyone was into it. It was everywhere. Even Maroon 5 made a ridiculous video about it:

I never joined in on the fun, but enjoyed living vicariously through others.

After a few months of seeing kids and adults alike walk around the city battling with invisible monsters, running into cafes hoping they’re the first to catch the hipster  Pokémon enjoying a cup of tea, I realized, this is a fad, it will go away soon. More importantly, I realized, I am clearly getting old.

I believe both statements are somehow true. Yes, I am getting old. i even call these things monsters. But also, everyone I knew who was hooked to Pokémon GO was no longer into it. Kids seemed to grow out of it, adults decided to pick up the next new thing. However, it was and is revolutionary and my small sample of people is not scientifically representative of this augmented reality gaming craze. Pokémon Go is still very much alive and kicking. But there was a sharp decline in interest amongst my friends. I asked one of my “younger” colleagues to answer a few questions about her experience with Pokémon GO. I wanted to know why she got so hooked on the game and why she suddenly decided to drop it altogether. Let’s call her Cece. She is 28 years old, works as a Project Analyst and is always on trend. Be it the latest Netflix show, the latest fashion or the latest digital media phenomenon, she knows what it is and she gets involved. Want to know more about Cece? This image tells the story of her DNA. This is how in-tune she is with everything digital:Cece captured many-a-Pokemonster in my office. Apparently my desk was a hot spot for virtual buggies.

“It did change the way I walked around the city. I walked through more parks than I would usually do because I could see that there were Pokemon around  and I wanted to collect some of the cool ones that were around, because they would pop up on my phone. I would not go to the park just to play, like some people did, like my sister. She would literally leave the apartment when she was visiting to go catch Pokemons, and go somewhere specific to play. Me, I would maybe just do a small detour to catch one, but I would not go so out of my way to do it”

What Cece is saying coincides with what Hjord and Ricardson refer to as the positive and even subversive side of games like Pokemon GO: “players can use such games to activate communities of interest in local contexts, organise urban events and public demonstrations of play.” (2016, pg 10).

“I though it was interesting how you could sit in places and battle other people because they were mostly around areas where a lot of people gathered. Interesting to see other people in these battle stations on the phones, and you could, if you wanted to, start a conversation with someone also doing it. I never did that, but I saw people do it. It kind of built this sense of community of people who were into the same thing. That was kind of nice”

Also, Forth et al recognize additional potential benefits, specifically those that result in an increased civic capital of players. “Civic capital is a measure of a citizen’s actual and potential impact on contributing, participating and engaging in their civic surrounds, from right outside their home, to their street, neighbourhood, suburb, and city level.” (2016, pg 15)It is also true that by local business can benefit from having this increase in players walking around the city, and perhaps going places they would have not gone before. The “increased footfall” as Forth et al  refer to, as well as “The aggregated usage data can aid decisions about how citizens move through, use and feel about their urban environment.” (2016, pg 22).

But there is a negative side as well, one that has to do with data privacy and security breaches, especially in the case of children. But before getting into this, Cece shared why she finally called it quits on  Pokémon GO. “I stopped playing Pokemon GO when the app started to crash too much, so that was annoying. And also when I literally crashed because I was playing it while riding on my new my bike. I got too distracted playing and hit a bump. Fell of my bike and really scraped my leg. I thought to mysef – this is stupid –  and I even stopped to see if I had caught the Evee. That’s when I realized I had to cut it out”. The fall from her bike is one literal way to look at the digital spilling over into the physical (Forte et al, 2016). The app crashing, another example of a user behaviour being constrained, according to Ritchie (2014).

With regards to the negative outcomes related to data privacy, I recognize the risks involved but I see this as learning curves, and growing pains that come with innovation. It is easy to blame technology for these issues, but apparently people who are harnessing the power of technology for wrong-doings are never really the ones that make it to the headlines. This might be changing now with what we are seeing on the news with regards to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

However, as I mentioned before, I am getting old, and true to my apparent demographic, I’ll close with a somewhat negative comment on technology. My cousin’s 15 year old daughter was hooked on this augmented reality game. She couldn’t get her attention away from her mobile phone to begin with, and now it was all about catching monsters. My cousin was relieved that even though she was on her phone all the time, at least now she wanted to step out of the house and actually engage with the outdoors. I didn’t want to burst her bubble when I saw the girl in action, walking down the street with her mother pulling her out of traffic and onto the sidewalk as if she was hypnotized by Japanese cartoons. Perhaps it’s a matter of maturity and the teen was not ready to engage with the community and embrace the many affordances of the game. Perhaps I am just getting old and simply not getting it.


Forth, M., Hudson-Smith, A. & Gifford, D., 2016. Smart cities, social capital, and citizens at play: A critique and a way forward. In Research Handbook on Digital Transformations. Cheltenham,: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 203–221.

Hjorth, L. & Richardson, I., 2017. Pokémon GO : Mobile media play, place-making, and the digital wayfarer. Mobile Media & Communication, 5(1), pp.3–14. Available at:http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2050157916680015.

Ritchie, J. 2014. The Affordances and Contraints of Mobile Locative Narratives. In The Mo- bile Story. Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies, ed. J. Farman, 53–67. Oxon: Routledge.

One thought on “Week 8 – Digital Urban Gaming

  1. Your post made me rather glad that I stopped playing the game before I had my own crash! (I also used to cycle to work, during summer ’16). It encapsulates the emphatic, yet brief experience the majority of players (I believe) walked, hunted (or occasionally cycled) through, as the ‘phenomenon’ had its ‘cultural moment’ (Hjorth et al, 2017, pg.4). I agree with you on the ‘learning curves’ involved in innovation too – I’ve seen nothing sinister result from my playing Pokemon Go that I don’t see from my regular use of a mobile device, and all the data it collects on me as I live. It is interesting though how often you hear that people, like you friend, did find themselves being more social, as a result. Whether this qualifies as a ‘social revolution’ (2017, pg.4), I’m not convinced (from my own experience), but perhaps it has highlighted an aspect of our culture, related to our relationship(s) with digital media, that we should be looking to address. When you look at the game from this perspective, and consider Huizinga’s view on ‘play’ (in Torres and Goggin, 2014, pg.104) as ‘stepping out of real’ or ‘ordinary life’, and becoming intensely absorbed by the ‘temporary sphere’, it could be said that any perceived social stimulus provided by Pokemon Go is as illusory as the little beasties themselves. For someone who is anti (or simply not particularly) social, the social side remains secondary, no matter if the location of the preferred or self-induced isolation has changed.

    Hjorth, L., & Richardson, I., (2017). Pokemon Go: Mobile play, place-making and the digital wayfarer. Mobile Media & Communication, 5(1), pp.3-14.

    Torres, C., & Goggin, G., (2014). Mobile social g*mbling: P*ker’s next frontier. Mobile Media & Communication. 2(1), pp.94-109.

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