Since its arrival at the beginning of July, Pokemon Go has become a phenomenon with people around the world searching for Pokemon using their smartphones. Despite reports of mass stampedes caused by sightings of rare Pokemon and some being found in inappropriate places such as at police stations, hospitals, cemeteries and even the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, there is a lot more to this craze than meets the eye.

Pokemon Go is based on Ingress, a world exploration game created by Niantic Labs in San Francisco. It delivers what is known as a mobile location oriented experience, which uses a player’s location to guide them towards landmarks and other places to visit. The game uses the geo-technology found in Google Maps, overlaid with extra data from each landmark location, and augmented reality that allows users to discover things that cannot be seen outside the virtual world e.g. Pokemon. However, Niantic aims to deliver more than just a great gaming experience, and its CEO John Hanke’s aim is to use his software to improve the lives of Pokemon players.

Unlike console-based games, mobile location-based games encourage the player to get up and move to find new Pokespots and Pokemon, improving their fitness and giving them the impetus to explore their surroundings. In addition, the game features eggs that only hatch into Pokemon when the user has walked a set distance. Hanke was also keen to allow users to connect with each other via the game, both on and offline. The Pokegym allows users to come together to battle in virtual reality at a set location and there is also growing evidence that people are forming groups to search for Pokemon together. In Worcester, a church that was designated a Pokegym has offered gamers a space to meet, discuss the game and access free Wi-Fi and refreshments.

But was does this mean for cities? The Pokemon Go game, offers cities the chance to promote sites and services and bring certain community groups together. Pokespots are created by setting up location spots in Ingress and the company gives people and organisations the opportunity to suggest new ones. This gives local authorities the chance to draw gamers to local points of interests and services. However, once the initial excitement around Pokemon dies down, the technology and software behind the games offers other opportunities. One of the most interesting of these is the ability for cities to overlay maps with multiple layers of data sources that can provide key information at set points and also encourage people to visit certain locations to carry out activities. This could be used during the planning process to allow residents or planners to identify the site, explore proposals and leave comments. Alternatively it could be used by governments to encourage certain behaviours, promote activities and inform the public of future and current works. The adoption of the Pokegym concept - without the virtual battles - offers councils a mechanism to encourage greater collaboration between citizens both online and face to face. These could be set up as virtual or real spaces to facilitate discussions on key issues or even to bring people together to tackle community projects.

Hanke, Nianitc’s CEO, in his interview with UK Business Insider states that: “Ingress was always intended to be a proof of concept to show ways in which Niantic’s software could help outside parties,” and with Pokemon Go increasing the interest in mobile location-oriented experience, it would appear that local authorities should begin to explore how gaming can offer them new ways to deliver services and connect with citizens both on and offline.

Glossary:

For those blog readers who are not Pokemon Masters, here is an overview of the most common terms:

Pokemon - Created by Nintendo in Japan, Pokemon which means "pocket monster” in Japanese are creatures that gamers can capture and train. In this version of the game there are 250 to collect.
Pokespot – A place where you can find Pokemon or items to help you catch them
Pokegym - Spaces where you can battle your Pokemon against another teams' Pokemon

 
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About the author

Stephanie Whittaker

Senior Marketing Communications Manager for BAM Design

Stephanie Whittaker is the senior marketing communications manager for BAM Design. She has spent more than 15 years in the construction industry, working for Arup, Capita Symonds and Halcrow before joining BAM in 2013.

Throughout her career, Stephanie has developed communications strategies for a variety of projects across the globe with a particular focus on creating resilient communities, high performance buildings, sustainable corporate strategies, building information modelling and energy.    

Most recently she has developed an interest in smart cities and how this approach can be used to have a positive impact on the wider city agenda and residents’ lives.  

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