iv. the Pok√©mon GO Plus and embodied space

The Pokémon GO Plus Рthe Pogo+ or Poképlus Рis a wearable technology that connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth allowing the user to play Pokémon GO without being restricted to the mobile phone screen. Playing Pokémon GO, contrary to reports (see the Pokémon GO Death Counter) is concerned with locating the self in space by triangulating the player location in both the real world and the virtual world represented on the mobile phone screen.

The Pok√©plus is a device which translates onscreen information into blinking colours and vibrations. The device is shaped like a mashup of the Google map ‚Äėpin‚Äô and the classic white and red Pok√©ball. It attaches to a wrist strap or clip providing the user with the ability to feel, see and hear the location of Pok√©mon and Pok√©stops within the sphere of detection permitted by the app (approximately 40 metres in diameter).

The Pokémon GO Plus lets players see, feel, hear and respond to the world of Pokémon away from their screens.

The player can put their phone in a pocket and interact with the local environment through a button press, which glows green in the proximity of a Pok√©mon, yellow if the Pok√©mon is not in the player’s Pok√©dex, and blue in the presence of Pok√©stops. If the Pok√©mon is captured the device vibrates in a distinct pulsing rhythm, matched with a LED flashing pattern of green, blue, red, and white. An escaping Pok√©mon results in a simple short pulse accompanied by a red flash. Approaching a Pok√©stop the device flashes blue and the player gathers the items from that stop in the app with a button press that results in simple vibration and multiple colours flashing to indicate success.

The Poképlus transforms the experience of space and place in a much more embodied and less visual way that the game played only through the screen. The Poképlus makes the game less about using the screen to reveal the world filled with Pokémon, and more about using the body to interact with the game’s translation of the environment, bringing the game into the physical and tangible world in a different way.

I found the Poképlus to be a massive release from lifting the screen up to view when walking. No longer does my neck ache after a Pokémon Go play session. It means that my walks with the game were less punctuated by stops and starts, and a more seamless movement through the environment. There is a degree of anxiety that I first encountered when playing with the Plus as the catch rate for Pokémon feels more random. The device is also deeply connected to the in-game economy, as it only uses basic Pokéballs in the catching process, which means these can be depleted and have to be replaced through buying currency and items in the game. The catching process is limited to a single throw, which means that higher level and rarer Pokémon can evade capture more easily. I had to make the conscious effect not to look at the in-game journal and ignore the ones that got away.

I use the Pok√©plus every day, and thoroughly enjoy the transformation of play into a differently embodied experience. It’s a device that reveals how AR experiences don’t have to be limited to interacting with screens and it shows how wearable technologies might expand interactions with our environments in simple and effective ways in the future.

iii. first encounters with Pok√©mon GO

Critics of Pok√©mon GO have called the app a device for amassing geospatial intelligence, and an instrument for violating personal information and privacy.¬†The autoethnographic approach employed here recognises that these concerns are important, but they are only one way of addressing the disruptive potential of Pok√©mon GO and the degree to which its play has been performed, contested, resisted and rewarded at a local level. The debate and concern over the potential abuse of surveilling features of all mobile technologies should¬†not be minimised, but it is also only part of what is going on and we shouldn’t abandon a closer look at the entire experience.

My first experience with the Pokémon GO app transformed the interior and exterior of my workplace, the University of Wollongong, especially how I came to view and experience the campus. Often a place of intensive periods of work, teaching and researching, inside classrooms and between them, the campus Рalthough an aesthetically enchanting location of artificially created streams and duck ponds and richly authentic native flora Рhad become a familiar site. That changed with Pokémon GO, as I searched the local environment for virtual monsters between classes, on the way to the library, to buy coffee and attend meetings.

The app changed the way I was oriented to the campus. My typical landmarks of central buildings, duck ponds and pathways changed to focus on the Pok√©stops in the game which would reward me with in-game items. I was also intrigued to learn, and often think about, how these in-game locations were crowdsourced by players of Niantic’s previous game, Ingress.¬†Walking between Pok√©stops, I began to hold the phone up in front of me as I walked: forcing my eyes between the virtual environment of the simplified Google Map on my screen and the direction I was heading. This act signalled my performance of play, and I noticed other ‚ÄėTrainers‚Äô who similarly identified themselves as players to the world with a particular stance that centres the phone at chest height or above and in the middle of the view. The app forces the player into a new physical relationship with the phone, holding it out in front to look between the screen and the path ahead. This new way of holding the phone while walking aggravated a pre-existing neck injury, and I found myself always trying new ways of holding the phone to reduce its impact on my body.

Pokestop

My favourite UoW campus Pokéstop.

 

Here I note the immense power and privilege that comes with the position of lecturer at an Australian university. First, because my wage had enabled me to buy into a contract for a new iPhone, the 6S, in the week of the app’s launch (deciding between the closed model of Apple products and more open operating system of Android devices). Having access to the high number of 4G access points on the rooftops of the campus buildings and the institutions high-density WiFi signals servicing the demand for high-speed internet access of students and colleagues, meant that connection – when the servers were operating- was assured and not disrupted by gaps in coverage experience by other regional and rural players.¬†The campus was also privileged as a prime location for Ingress players, university students who had mapped the location of potential sites of significance and interest by submitting details to Niantic as part of the play of their previous game.

Pokemon GO map of Pokestops on the University of Wollongong Campus

Pokemon GO map of Pokestops on the University of Wollongong Campus

This Google Map is an incomplete picture of the Pokéstops that I choose to seek out as I walk across campus. I no longer travelled along the most direct route between buildings, which increased the distance I covered with the app and advancing the number of pokémon I could find and the number of Pokéstops I could visit each trip. I began to leave the office to make short walks of ten minutes more often.

Until playing Pok√©mon GO, I had assumed that non-university attending players would regard the campus as a public place. My assumption was that ‚Äėthe public‚Äô would visit to take advantage of the density of pok√©mon and Pok√©stops. I had assumed, wrongly, that players would regard the University campus as a public place, similar to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens directly across the street, which also has a high density of available Pok√©stops. ¬†My incorrect assumption was revealed by a question on the Illawarra Pok√©mon Go Facebook group. On the annual recruitment ‚ÄėOpen‚Äô day the University of Wollongong marketing team added ‚Äėlures‚Äô to each of the campus Pok√©stops. ¬†Lures are purchased in-game items that increased the number and rarity of Pok√©man ‚Äėspawning‚Äô in that location, which resulted in the arrival of a rare Kabutops: the question posed to Facebook asked if it was permissible for those not intending to enrol to be on the campus.

 

 

An invitation to Pok√©mon Go players in Wollongong and the Illawarra.

We are a small team of researchers at Wollongong Uni seeking participants for a study of Pokémon Go players. Now the hype has settled down, we want to talk to regular players about their experiences using the app in the local region.

The study has three parts, an initial interview, a walk-along session where we film and map your typical play experience, and a final ‘watch back’ where you view your play session back via 360 video, to comment on the urban experience of playing Pok√©mon Go.

Please respond to this post, PM for further information or contact us via email:

Dr Thomas Birtchnell Рtbirtchn@uow.edu.au 

Ms Victoria Ikutegbe ‚Äď vui982@uowmail.edu.au

Dr Chris Moore Рchrism@uow.edu.au 

Ms Loren Vettoretto ‚Äďlv623@uowmail.edu.au¬†