Yeah, I’m probably a bit late on the bandwagon here, but hear me out. Let’s talk about this new craze that’s taking the world by storm – Pokémon Go. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past what? Twenty years? Pokémon began in 1995 as a pair of Gameboy Games which quickly crossed media into anime, trading cards, movies, comics and toys.
As a story, each update to the franchise is of course, slightly different, but the general structure revolves around a young Pokémon Trainer (either the player, or a character) as they journey the landscape catching monsters called Pokémon and battling them against their friends.
But most of us HAVEN’T been living under a rock. Most of us know all this and have grown up with this story. I for one, still vividly remember sitting excitedly in a movie theatre watching the infamous Mewtwo battle against our heroes.
Recently, and I mean, like really recent – Pokémon Go was released, initially here in New Zealand, and within a week it’s taken the world by storm. The Smartphone app that puts us real life fans into our own journey to “Catch em all” uses a combination of Geo tagging and Augmented reality to bring the pocket monsters into our world.
Seemingly overnight, the streets in Auckland have become overrun with people wandering around, catching Pokémon, topping up their Pokéball supplies and engaging in friendly battles with one another in their local gyms.
I’ve heard word that if you head to the other side of town to a nice beach area called Mission Bay, there’s crowds of people wandering the streets and the shore line looking for Pokémon to add to their collections.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t clocked in a lot of time myself playing the game – mainly due to the fact that I’m currently out of data and therefore my Pokémon hunting is tethered to my house’s wifi for another few days. However, I felt compelled to write an article about this game anyway, but not because of my usual reasoning.
This article isn’t about the storytelling in the game or anything like that. This article is about how I am starting to wonder whether we are seeing an important event in technological history unfold before our eyes.
The Four Screens of Media
You see, there’s this thing called the “Four Screens.” In the world of technology and media, these refer to:
Your Desktop Computer
And... Your Laptop Computer
There has been for some time now debate over what the mysterious “Fifth Screen” will be, some suggesting VR, others things like Google Glass have also been suggested. However, it is the view of one of my Uni Lecturers, and subsequently my own, that the fifth screen in our lives is most likely going to be Augmented Reality.
For those of you who’ve never heard of this before, Augmented Reality is what Pokémon Go is using. Augmented reality uses things like Geo tagging, your smartphone camera and your smartphone clock to allow you to see into a kind of other “dimension.”
What I mean by this is that what we see through the camera of our smartphones with an augmented reality app, exists there regardless of whether we are looking at it or not. We are not turning it on, we are not effecting its arrival, it is there because it has been placed there by its creators through the aforementioned Geo tagging etc.
To me, what makes Pokémon Go so fascinating, is that it’s nothing that new. Games like this have floated around in Augmented Space for a while now. It’s not the first of its kind. In fact, a couple of months ago I was working with a team to create a game rather similar, except the monsters in ours were more of the Cthulhu variety, and you couldn’t catch them, you kind of just had to run and hide. While our game fell through in the end, Pokémon Go has exploded, and as a result, Augmented Reality gaming has entered the mainstream public for the first time in a huge way.
An Important Moment in History
Are we perhaps witnessing the birth of the Fifth Screen in 2016? I think perhaps we are. It’s funny how all it took was a large franchise name attached to it for people to pay attention. Pokémon Go has captured the public’s imagination by playing on the nostalgia of us Millennials and giving us the dream we always wanted from the franchise – to be trainers, and have Pokémon exist in real life.
But it’s done more than just that, it has opened our minds to the idea of gameplay being geographically located, the idea of us having to go somewhere to play, of having to pay attention to certain times of the day. Suddenly we are playing a game that encourages exercise, and while some may critique it and say it’s turning the world into Smartphone Zombies, I for one am excited to see the direction in which this takes us.