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Expert Comment: Gotta catch 'em all - Pokémon Go launches in the UK

pokemon go Thursday 14 July 2016

As Pokémon Go launches in the UK today, Dr David Reid, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, discusses what it means for the future of gaming and augmented reality, and the pros and cons of this latest craze.

I am really into new technologies and gaming, and pride myself on making fairly accurate predictions about the next few months at least, but every now and then some things take you by surprise- something hits you from the left of field that you just don’t see coming.

A week ago I was in London with my son. He downloaded an app onto his mobile phone. Suddenly he wanted to go out and explore the streets of London. He took particular interest in a blue plaque at 14 Clapham Common where Graham Greene lived. This confused me. This was the first time he showed interest in Graham Greene, and I had never seen him reading Brighton Rock…..

What was actually happening was that he was playing Pokémon Go. This new augmented reality game by Nintendo is sweeping the world. When I looked at his phone the camera showed a Pokémon waiting to be collected under the blue plaque. We found similar Pokémon in other places. We found Pokémon around the Mathew Flinders and Trim the cat statue in Euston Station that I have walked past dozens of times and never noticed before.  We found Pokémon at St Mathews Church, by a Bovril sign, in Kew Gardens. They were all over the place!

It struck me that this was something genuinely new. A new type of gaming that got people out and exploring their environment.  Walking around looking at sights now had an extra virtual dimension.

Since last week this game has constantly been in the news and is sweeping the world. Nintendo, a company previously struggling in the gaming industry has seen a share rise of 53% in 3 days. It is estimated that £7 billion has been added to its market value in the last 3 days.

It immediately became the top free app in the US and was so popular on launch day that the servers briefly failed.

The app has been downloaded more than 5 million times on Android and has overtaken the daily active Android users of Twitter. With servers still under strain, its introduction to the UK and other countries has been delayed.

But it’s not all good news. The first the non-gaming world knew of this was on Friday, when, in Wyoming, 19-year-old Shayla Wiggins jumped a fence to capture the Pokémon shown on her smartphone whereupon she found a dead body. On Saturday night in Missouri a group of armed robbers laid an isolated trap by adding a beacon to a Pokéstop (a place where extra abilities, snacks and medicine can be added to your Pokémon). This attracted players whereupon they were robbed of their mobile phones.

There is also evidence that criminals have already produced malware-infected versions that, once installed, give hackers access to the user’s phone and information.

As groups gather looking for Pokémon this adds an extra social dimension to the game. In areas of high Pokémon density hundreds of players have been known to gather. Once there they can exchange or augment their Pokémon abilities at a Pokéstop or battle Pokémon in virtual gyms.

This has also caused problems, there are reports that police stations museums and libraries have been attracting huge numbers of people because virtual gyms have been placed in that location. In America lawyers are already arguing about invasion of privacy issues. For instance, a house created from a converted church has attracted hundreds of people per day to it. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has asked people not to play Pokémon Go on their phones during their visit, as it is inappropriate. The Arlington National Cemetery, just three miles away from the museum, has also warned off Pokémon players.

The weirdest one was a report that a man caught a Pidgey Pokémon as his wife gave birth……

On the Liverpool Hope University Campus at Taggart Avenue we have a Pokéstop at the library and a gym.  

However, despite all of the problems, it’s a great way to interact and meet people. Weirdly, people staring at their phones in public places might end up being the best argument we have against those who claim that technology is cutting people off from each other.


Dr David Reid - full profile

Department of Mathematics and Computer Science




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