Chapter 2, Page 63
Hello all! Sorry we’ve been sick, drained of energy, and with Molly bouncing around from convention to convention all summer it’s been tough to maintain a schedule.
In fact, it feels like the world’s changed around us. In the weeks since the last page was uploaded, a little app called Pokemon Go has basically rewired the mental circuitry of city-dwellers across the globe. Playing the app, as I’ve been doing like everyone else, I’m struck by its similarities to how I envisioned the Urban Achievers program depicted in WooHoo!. Its use of cultural landmarks as waypoints, its para-social teams and rivalries, its geocache-like gamification of urban space, and of course, the numerous achievements and medals– these are all things I considered in developing the Urban Achievers concept two-odd years ago. Playing Pokemon Go was like witnessing many of these ideas come to life.
(It should be noted I was not aware of Pokemon’s precursor Ingress, which also came out around the time!)
Currently, the game’s broad popularity signifies something more than a fad to me. It’s a cultural (and of course, commercial) shift many years in the making– the virtual reality overlay, the Carroll-esque territorial map that many failed ventures promised and none delivered. I predict this is just the beginning.
All such change has a cost– just ask all the folks in the news we’ve seen shot, kidnapped, attacked by wildlife or plunged off cliffs while chasing those cute little cartoon critters. The built environment– both virtual and real– holds threats, and exploration means exposure to them. What this means for law, for culture, for urban planning is worth thinking about already. Buildings, streets and plazas may be built differently in the future to accommodate virtual navigation, even as businesses already seek to control PokeGo’s human traffic flow for their own benefits. (The question of “who benefits?” is worth asking of any phenomenon, particularly a commercial one.)
It’s my hope that, beyond the social and exercise benefits Pokemon Go players have already reported, a program might one day exist that utilizes a city’s real culture, real history, real stories as part of its fabric, making players feel more connected to the places they live and the people that live among them. The idea raises questions that WooHoo! began with and will hopefully be able to tackle in more detail even as the future outpaces us: Who would build and run such a project? Who curates the data and decides which cultures and histories are valuable? What would such an AR game mean for folks who wish to tell their own histories or, less pleasantly, erase someone else’s? What does an app reliant on real-world exploration mean for people with mobility issues or those who, for whatever reason, can’t access the much-valued hotspots? What does a gamified urban experience mean for future politics, for architecture, for tourism, for the way we interact with strangers in our daily lives? Who benefits, and how?
I may have something to write in more depth about this in the future, but for now, here’s a comic page! [Morning Zoo car honk / toilet flush sound plays me out]