Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock since 6 July 2016, you will at least know that millions of people all over the globe are now spending every spare moment out hunting Pokemon. (For the uninitiated who are about to correct my grammar, I’m assured that Pokemon is both singular and plural, there’s no ‘Pokemons’). It’s an international obsession, that saw the new ‘Pokemon Go’ app downloaded more than 15 million times in the first 6 days after its launch in Australia, Japan and the United States.
What’s a Pokemon? Technically it’s a small critter found in video games. Catch one, and you can train it to help you battle others. The basic concept hasn’t changed, even though (believe it or not) Pokemon are now 20 years old. That’s how long ago it was when some clever computer people dreamed up the Pokemon video game for Nintendo’s hand-held Game Boy device. At that stage, most people didn’t have access to the internet, and Pokemon were strictly offline beasties. Even so, according to Wikipedia the Pokemon franchise has sold about 280 million units, making it the second most popular game franchise ever, based on unit sales. Gross revenues for the franchise have exceeded $46 billion over that period, which might technically make the empire of Pokemon bigger than Greenland or the Cayman Islands. Those guys should seriously think about getting a national dragon!
For the past two years, some other clever people working at Niantic, partly owned by Nintendo, have been beavering away, or should I say ‘pokemoning’ away (yep, it’s a real word) to produce the latest and greatest edition that was released on 6 July 2016. On that date, the cages were opened and Pokemon ran, swam and flew to all the four corners of the earth where they can be found today. Right now. I can see them. Of course I can only see them though my Android looking glass, but Niantic promise that very soon I will have my own personal ‘Pokemon Go Plus’ wearable device – a kind of lapel clip – that will alert me to the presence of a Pokemon nearby and enable me to hunt it down without touching my phone. Everywhere you go on earth you will see these lapel clips, buzzing away. Buzz. Buzz. And you thought mobile phones going off in theatres was a distraction!
Why does this matter anyway? Bear with me while I wear my geek boy glasses for a moment. Firstly, Pokemon Go is a kind of ‘augmented reality’ system. Many people and organisations have tried to take these systems into the mainstream, with zero commercial success. The early popularity of Pokemon Go shows that augmented reality might really be a new revolution on our doorstep, changing our lives more than texting and selfies (for example). Hunting Pokemon is just the start of this revolution. Secondly, the convergence of artificial intelligence and augmented reality opens the door to a world where constant companions will be with us wherever we go, hugely enriching our experience of the world. Think Siri on Anavar.
Some readers will remember ‘Clippy’ and other attempts to supposedly enrich users’ experiences of desktop productivity software. If you don’t remember Clippy, count yourself lucky. Clippy was an irritating wannabe that sometimes made you feel like punching the screen just to make him go away. And perhaps that’s the point here. We don’t want enrichment foisted onto us. What we want is enrichment that is there when we need it or choose it, like a friend in our life who we invite to come places with us. Pokemon may be beguiling and magnetic, but they don’t invade our space unless we opt in. Put simply, friends are for when we want to play, or share experiences, and sometimes when we want to pour our hearts out to a good listener. News flash: Dr Pokemon will see you now.
However, sometimes friends lead you astray and get you in trouble, and apparently “‘I was collecting Pokemon’ is not a legal defence” according to police in Western Australia. Really? So if I chase my imaginary monster friend into your back yard I can’t plead insanity? (find “Pokemon insanity” online. It’s a thing already). I hear that people are putting up signs on their properties now, telling Pokemon trainers not to trespass there. In fact, some lawyers are suggesting that if you come onto my property and take my Pokemon it’s theft. You have been warned.