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PROFspectives: Pokémon Go

News Story

Since the augmented reality app Pokémon Go launched in July, the world has been on a quest to catch ‘em all. In this month’s issue of PROFspectives, our professors weigh in on the pros and cons of the game, why it is so popular, its implications on learning, and what it means for the future of augmented reality.

As we launch into the new semester and memories from summer break begin to fade, there is one trend that stands out and continues to “catch” our attention here at the University and across the world—Pokémon Go.

For those of you who aren’t found perusing parks and Pokéstops for precious Pokémon, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game where players capture, train, and battle Pokémon—the beloved '90s video game monsters, trading cards, and television series that took the world by storm. Because the phone app game is augmented reality—a live view of the real world superimposed with computer-generated elements—the player feels like they are catching Pokémon in the real world. Players walk around to track and find Pokémon and when they find one, the camera on their phone pops open and shows you a Pokémon character sitting on the park bench in front of you, or even hanging out on your friend’s shoulder. Just like the '90s version, the objective of the game is that you “gotta catch ‘em all!”

But why is this new game so popular? Many people credit it to having positive effects, such as increased physical activity, social interaction, and engaged learning advantages. Others believe the game can have several negative consequences such as privacy and surveillance issues, increased crime, and data mining. But why is this game continuing to catch our interest and what does this mean for the future of augmented reality? We asked some of our professors here at Pace to weigh in and provide their opinions pertaining to Pokémon Go in this month’s edition of PROFspectives.

Marcella Szablewicz, PhD
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Instructor of "Digital Cultures" in the Digital Media Studies Minor
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences

The phrase “virtual reality” has been part of the popular imagination for decades. For those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, virtual reality conjures images ripped out of William Gibson’s 1984 Sci-Fi novel Neuromancer or the 1992 horror film The Lawnmower Man. But for today’s Pace students, the words virtual reality, like other overhyped terms such as cyberspace or cyberbullying, may sound justifiably dated. To quote the insightful ethnographic findings of a former colleague, Dr. Nathan Fisk, these are “old lady words.” One of the main problems with concepts such as these has do with the fact that they reify the boundary between the “virtual” and the “real,” creating something many digital media scholars critically refer to as the “digital divide.” In these narratives virtual reality is an alternate world—a mysterious place that people can escape to (or become trapped in), and one that exists separate from “real life” (RL).

In fact, our contemporary “virtual” moment is far more complicated than this. While trendy tech gadgets such as the Oculus Rift have revived popular interest in the old [yawn] topic of “virtual reality,” we might instead focus on the implications of our current state of technologically “augmented reality.” For the most part, today’s VR goggles fall into the same category as 3D movies and hoverboards; these are all inventions that have existed for decades, or in the case of hoverboards, at least since Michael J. Fox rode one in Back to the Future Part II. The only thing that is new is that the technology used to produce them has improved. However, taken in its broadest sense, the “virtual” is not merely a strange place to which one is transported, but rather something that we are increasingly choosing to weave into the fabric of everyday life. The dilemma facing us now has to do with extent to which we want to give ourselves over to the “virtual” and the corporations responsible for engineering it.

When we play Pokémon Go, buy books and movies that are “suggested for us” by a computer algorithm, or post geo-tagged updates to Instagram, we all contribute to creating a more vivid and socially satisfying “virtual reality.” But we must also stop to ask ourselves, what are the implications of the increased surveillance, data mining, and filtered search results that undergird this virtually integrated lifestyle?

Gerald Ardito, DPS
Assistant Professor of STEM-D Education     
School of Education

I think the main lesson of Pokémon Go is less the use of augmented reality (AR) and more the impact of active learning. Sure, this technology could (and should) have a positive impact on learning, but it is really the engagement that matters.

As a researcher, my interests lie in the development of learning environments that support, promote, and foster independent self-directed learning. Research tells us that self-directed learning is directly related to engagement. Imagine that you are studying forces at work on the Earth, and could use AR to explore a volcano or continental plate. This type of experience is likely to be more effective than just reading about these phenomena.

In what ways can these type of games be used to support self-directed learning? Ultimately, I think as educators we are interested on our students developing themselves into autonomous, lifelong learners. It is always helpful for parents to be familiar with the kinds of technology experiences their students are having and to be a part of it with them. I would encourage parents to get beyond the media hype (which tends to focus on the scary and the dangerous).

Pokémon Go, apart from all the hype, has demonstrated how technology can be used to generate engagement. There are definitely lessons to be learned here.

Elizabeth Berro, MA, RN, PNP, CHSE
Co-director of Undergraduate Simulation
College of Health Professions

The free augmented reality game Pokémon Go has created a worldwide buzz, with just under 21 million Pokémon Go active daily users in the United States. Pokémon Go and future games like it may be important components of a plan to reach health-related goals such as reducing obesity and increasing physical activity among young people.

The “real experience” of technology has permeated the fabric of our lives. My husband vigilantly tracks his steps on the Apple Health App, assuring a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, and a coworker described how her husband “newly discovered” his poor sleep habits from his Fitbit, though she had been informing him of this sleep deficit for years!

What’s fresh with Pokémon Go, aside from its massive popularity among millennials, is the palpable sense of excitement in gaming, inspiring both social interaction and physical exercise. Ambling through several towns, I have surveyed Pokémon Go players on foot and bikes; gaggles of high school boys actually talking (not texting) to one another; elementary school children pulling their mother along through town, not pining for ice cream. Pokémon gyms include town parks, which are now populated with folks beyond dog walkers, and even in my small village, the BOT (Back of Town)previously known for its less than attractive activitieshas become the place to play with battling characters like Poliwrath, Dragonite, and Snorlax.

One survey showed 74% of Pokémon Go users preferred playing with others, even though 70% considered themselves introverts, supporting the social aspects of the game. Another survey revealed 84% of Pokémon Go players have increased their daily physical activity by 30 minutes per day. The potential effects are impressive. Pokémon Go player Sam Clark lost more than 28 pounds while collecting all 143 Pokémon characters in Britain. Roberto Vasquez, a 24-year-old Canadian player, dropped 25 pounds in 3.5 weeks.

Pokémon Go and future games of this ilk have enormous potential to help us reach the CDC recommendation of 60 minutes per day of physical activity for children age 611 and a reduction in the obesity rate.

Allen, R. (2016, July 12). Pokémon GO usage statistics say it's biggest U.S. mobile game ever.
Eastaugh, S. (2016, July 29). Pokemon Go player claims he shed pounds.
George, T. (2016, August 11). 60% say Pokémon GO is helping them get up and go!
How much physical activity do children need? (2015). Retrieved August 19, 2016, from
Nutrition and Weight Status. (2014).
Weinberger, M. (2016, July 15). 14 things you didn't know about Pokémon Go and how it was made.

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