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Virtual Reality Lessons From Pokemon Go

The game’s release is giving us some education on augmented reality’s effects.

Pokémon Go is everywhere, literally. Released this month in U.S. markets, the augmented reality mobile game lets users capture, battle and train virtual monsters superimposed on the real world. (If this confuses you, check out a screenshot.)

I haven’t played the game myself (though I think it’s great that people are getting outdoors), but it brings a lot of issues to light about privacy, safety and respect when it comes to augmented reality:

  • People may become robbery targets (or walk into traffic or private property) as they move about public places staring down at their phones more than they usually do.
  • The game is leading people to “PokeStops” that seem inappropriate for playing games. Officials at the September 11 Memorial, Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery have reported that people are using the app at their sites. While some people note that it could be used to draw in new visitors, some sites are looking into whether they can be excluded from the game out of respect.
  • People have brought up privacy concerns, noting that the app requires extensive permission, and may have been able to “see and modify nearly all information in your Google Account.” The game’s developer, Niantic, said this was unintended, and is working with Google to remedy the authorization issue.

But it’s not all bad. People are getting off their couches, getting exercise and interacting with other players. Some businesses (including a café and a deli) are embracing the game, branding themselves as charging stations or paying for “digital lures” which increase foot traffic to PokeStops nearby.

The game is certain to result in some interesting conversations about control and liability when augmented reality is projected into real-life scenarios. Todd Richmond, a director at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, points out, "Tenants have had no say, no input, and now they're part of it."


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