As it often happens on a summer afternoon, you may find yourself going for a stroll in the park just to enjoy the scenery and sunshine. As you approach the fountain, you see a group of people standing around and looking down at their phones. Though they are in a tight group, none of them are communicating with each other.
Chances are you’ve just found your local Pokémon Go players. The new app sensation is modeled after earlier versions of Augmented Reality Gaming, meaning players must participate in real life outside of their chosen gaming platform (this time, it’s smartphones). For Pokémon Go, players are encouraged to explore their surroundings to find and catch Pokémon. In the game, and in your town, certain places were determined to be important enough to become Pokéstops or Gyms. These are locations where players go to gather special items or fight each other. So how does a giant international phenomenon put your small park’s fountain on the map?
Augmented/Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)
In 2012, a small startup under Google called Niantic Inc. created an app called Ingress. Ingress was a SciFi game that you could play by invite only. But if you weren’t invited, don’t feel too disappointed. Ingress was plagued with bugs and server problems, the same problems that Pokémon Go had during it’s launch but quickly fixed. Players for the game Ingress carefully cataloged interesting locations with coordinates and pictures. These are mostly churches and statues in rural areas, but could also be murals, historical markers, or anything special to the locals. Most importantly, the sites could not be businesses, residences, or anywhere that isn’t pedestrian friendly.
“Ingress players also provided Niantic with locations which they thought would be excellent portals, with 15 million worldwide submissions in all. Five million were approved, with some portals located at the North Pole and Antarctica. This data helped Niantic get things rolling with Pokémon Go. The most popular Ingress portals are now gyms while other locations are Pokéstops.”
– John Hanke – CEO and founder of Niantic | Mashable
Crowd Sourced Maps
Since locations are not commercial (yet) and are more often historical landmarks, there have been reports of inappropriate Pokémon Go activity in public spaces. The Arlington National Cemetery, for example, is not the ideal place for players to celebrate their latest catch. Also, certain Pokémon are coded to show up in specific areas, often leading players to unfamiliar streets and private property. Though the criteria for Pokéstops is improving, submissions are currently suspended so that Niantic can deal with the huge backlog. Of course, crowd-sourced maps come with their own strengths. Using the public to build a comprehensive map with varied locations saves time and money, and who knows an area’s quirky places better than the locals? But there are also weaknesses. Using this method of data collection risks using data points that don’t meet the creator’s standards.
I would leave this one alone, but that’s just me – Twitter
Evolution of Geographic Games
In playing the game, I find myself heading to the bay to catch more water type Pokémon for my team. On weekends I’m hitting different towns around the eastern shore; Easton, Oxford, St. Michaels, Cambridge, Ocean City etc. But I also find myself in the smaller, more distant towns, looking for easy gyms to take over. I’ve found a mural in my hometown that I’d never noticed before. Of course, there are often groups to be found around the Salisbury University campus, as playing in a team makes you stronger. It reminds me of the days when geocaching was the major mapping game. In those days I would use my GPS to search for secret locations with treasure caches. However, both geocaching and Pokémon Go-ing have been advertised as community activities that I more often find myself trekking solo. Maybe that’s the strength of Geo-games, encouraging us to go out and explore.
Arlington National Cemetery Wants People to Stop Catching Pikachu on it’s Hallowed Ground – Washington Post
Massive Crowd at Santa Monica Pier Playing Pokemon Go – NBC LA
Crowd Sourced (Third Party) Maps – PC World
Australian Police Station Has a Pokemon Problem – The Verge
Interesting Pokemon and DC Demographic Map Crossover – Washingtonian
Ingress Site Criteria – Ingress