It happened this afternoon. I was on a weekend trip. Outside of town. Pokémon Go finally arrived in Canada. I did not believe what happened next.
Pokémon GO is now available in Canada! Discover and capture Pokémon all around you. pic.twitter.com/uTXwIk85IZ
— Pokémon GO (@PokemonGoApp) July 17, 2016
The public reaction — as I walked across a local park in a remote little summer vacation town — was tantalizing. All of a sudden flocks of people were moving around the streets of the little town, their phones in hand. Spotting for Pokéstops. While some folks have been playing the game with a US copy in Canada for a little over a week (it was released in the US on July 6), it is now finally and officially everywhere in Canada. Local Canadians were very excited and random conversations between strangers were happening with game knowledge exchange as these people were playing together. It’s definitely a location-based game (not really an augmented reality game like so many news outlets are keen to call it) that seems to foster some good behaviours like walking and talking to each other.
Some of the game’s mechanics are especially riveting and have positive and negative potential. For example, the Pokéstop that I came across on my evening in the park had an incense on it, which made the park area very attractive Pokémon catchers, because it lures wild Pokémon to come there. This made random strangers engage in conversation with each other by providing a common cultural framing through the game.
The location-based part of the game lets you move around a virtual map with your Pokémon trainer and catch these cute little Pokémon creatures by tapping them (often after following rustling grass on the map). Throwing the ball has in my experience been more luck than anything else, but I am sure some really focused players have already optimized their strategies (it could be argued that these portion has elements of augmented reality to it because the Pokémon creature is superimposed over a camera view of your surroundings, but I don’t think that warrants calling the entire game augmented reality). What I find really fascinating are the moments in the game, when a rare creature appears and the appeal for many to catch it becomes now a real-life phenomenon, just like the Vaporeon sighting in Central Park.
One of the more exciting mechanics of the game is the egg incubation, where eggs will hatch when the owner walks around with them for a certain distance. This is one of the ways that the game has potential to make its players more active. Time will tell if people can make a habit of this.
So, now we finally have Pokémon Go in Canada and the HCI Games Groupis excited to study the game and its players as it is becoming a global cultural phenomenon. In fact, in a recent paper that we will present at CHI PLAY 2016, we already began to investigate the reason for people to value their digital objects and think about design strategies for digital collection interfaces (download: Toups et al., 2016, “The Collecting Itself Feels Good”: Towards Collection Interfaces for Digital Game Objects).