Unless you have been living under a rock, real or virtual, you no doubt know that Niantic released Pokémon GO last week. The augmented reality smartphone game has become a global phenomenon, rolling like a giant, virtual Poké ball from Australia to the US. Otherwise rational, real-world beings are poking around everywhere looking for PokéStops and Gyms.
Otherwise rational, real-world beings are poking around everywhere looking for PokéStops and Gyms.
Coverage and commentary of the game have come from every corner, from tech analysts to cyber security to law enforcement. The New York Times reported that this Pokémon push has accelerated the acceptance of A.R., perhaps advancing it to the next level in a week. “Many technology companies thought A.R. might first take off through specialized business applications that, for example, allow architects to visualize finished building projects in situ. Instead, it took a game based on a beloved entertainment franchise from the mid-1990s in Japan to help the technology go mainstream.” This is fascinating in so many unexpected ways! (And this is putting aside the very strage ways Pokémon GO is affecting people’s lives, as outlined in TIME.)
I have written about V.R. and A.R. here before: first about Google Cardboard and then about Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. I’m fascinated by the possibilities, especially their application in education. My intent is not to get into game strategy–I will confess I have not played it yet and have no intention to do so any time soon. I will also stay clear of the legal implications as they relate to safety, privacy and policing. (I have no knowledge or authority on any of the subjects.) Rather, if this is in fact A.R.’s moment, I’d like to ponder a few more productive uses for the platform. Niantic’s own Field Trip app would indicate that there is promise. Here are ten ways we could use the Pokémon-esque platform in more productive but no less profitable ways.
- On the micro level, what if part of the code were open for cities, towns, municipalities or institutions to create A.R. adventures to educate residents about local history and engage them in civic activity? Next-level Freedom Trail in Boston. Tours of Civil War sites and Civil Rights monuments. College tours with additional A.R. overlays. Safety programs and protocols available 24/7.
- What if we thought big, creating some sort of continental or even global Amazing Race? As my slant here is educational, I’d suggest the 7 Wonders, the Freedom Trail, The Underground Railroad, the Oregon Trail, The Silk Road, The Roads to Rome. Prizes, perks, power-ups and automatic posts to social media would, of course, be included.
- Speaking of the Oregon Trail, what if we used this new platform to reboot classic educational games like The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Children of the 80s like me learned a ton about history and geography via these games and I’d love to seem reborn–like Pokémon itself–for a new generation.
- What if cities and even countries were able to create a Back To The Future style tourism industry? Ancient Rome and Egypt, Frontier America, Colonial Williamsburg…wherever, whenever. The possibilities are endless. In fact, I heard Charles Fadel float the idea of making the wireframes from video games like Assasin’s Creed available to developers, so the thought of prefab immersive AR worlds is not as far-fetched as it might seem as first.
- What if we used the mapping and A.R. technology to create learning walks in the very same landmarks and heritage sites the Pokémon crowd seems to be profaning? Sure we’d have to set up some incentives and evolved forms, but I figure we can find a way. Geocaching has a following and A.R. overlays could make this pursuit even more popular.
- What if companies were somehow able to combine two popular platforms like Minecraft and Pokémon, creating AR or VR environments that players can both create and explore? The combined effects of these media could be powerful, and perhaps players could get some more exercise along the way.
- What if companies like Niantic, Google or the next Niantic were able to apply the detailed mapping and geotagging technologies to set gamers out on real-world tasks? These could be related to biology, demography, or any other scientific fields. Points here would be virtual but the progress would be real.
- As a language teacher, I imagine A.R. or V.R. walkthroughs where students could inhabit an immersive, content rich environment. Two possibilities that come to mind are 1) vocab overlays by category, level or customized category, 2) avatar conversation partners. Just as we had to get used to people talking on their phones to callers we can’t see, we would have to be at peace with language learners stopped on the street conversing with invisible partners.
- My kids live the PBS show Odd Squad and I’ve always been fascinated by the Math Room, where numbers, equations and principles come to life. What if we were able to replicate this and set a generation of math students to play there? What if there were other discipline specific and/or grade-level, interdisciplinary A.R./V.R. worlds that we could build for our students?
- A.R. and V.R. have great potential to assist and empower those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties. (Yes, think Avatar!) The phone-based app and the Pokémon GO Plus portable device (sold separately) could assist navigation in both the real and virtual worlds. Conversely, V.R. or A.R. modules could be used to mask or make difficult certain operations so that people could be more aware of their environment in the real world. (Yes, think a donut on a baseball bat.)
How reasonable are any of these ideas? Who knows. Even if they are at all reasonable, which will gain traction and how will they make it to market? Who knows. Even if the significance and even the signposts are not clear currently, I think it is fair to say that it’s GO time for these technologies in our times.