I have spent the majority of this summer in Europe and I’ve watched Pokémon Go grow rapidly in popularity, evident in every city that I have visited. The app has recently launched in Hong Kong while I’ve been away. From what I have seen on social media and in the news, its popularity there appears to match what I have seen abroad.
Chris Brogan shared an infographic to demonstrate its astonishing success. Click here to read the mind-boggling statistics for yourself. Even if the fad quickly dies down, the game raises further questions about the future of gaming, the impact of augmented reality (AR), and its place in education.
Does Pokémon Go have a place in education?
Even before considering how it could be used in the classroom, I believe that it automatically has value – just because of how popular it is. Pokémon Go joins Minecraft on the list of crazes that are just too popular for teachers to ignore. If it’s important to my students, then it’s important to me. I’m not even sure if my new students like it or not. I haven’t met them yet! But just in case they do, I’ve been preparing.
Pokémon Go can be downloaded for free on Apple or Android devices. This tutorial video explains the game:
I hold fond memories of Pokémon from my youth. I watched the cartoon every Saturday morning on SMTV: Live (who remembers this fantastic show?) and I obsessed over the trading cards and Gameboy games. My friends and peers were similarly obsessed. Back then, the notion of being able to hunt Pokémon in the real world using Augmented Reality (AR) would have been an incredible pipe dream.
What is Augmented Reality?
“Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.”
This pipe dream is now a reality. In the case of Pokémon Go, a player’s experience of catching Pokémon is made more realistic by mapping their environment and using their phone’s camera to show the Pokemon as part of the real world. Of course, the Pokémon are just overlaying computer graphics, but the environments that the players interact with are real. Pokémon has once again taken the world by storm. Having downloaded the app and played around with it over the summer (purely for professional research, of course), I have to admit… I get it. It’s loads of fun and very addictive! However, it’s worth noting that Pokémon Go is just one example of AR, and experts agree that it is a very basic use of it. Upcoming uses of AR are likely to be much more sophisticated.
What are the benefits of Pokémon Go?
In this interesting article by The Atlantic, the author compares the childhoods of different generations. With the younger generations, video games replaced traditional play. They therefore missed out on the proven educational benefits of play. Pokémon Go, through AR, has been widely praised for bringing those benefits back. Among other benefits, Pokémon Go encourages social interactions, exercise and local interest.
“While electronic games have traditionally caused kids to retreat to couches, here is one that did precisely the opposite… Augmented reality, it stands to reason, could revitalize the role of imagination in kids’ learning and development.”
The Atlantic, 2016
As the player walks in real life, the on-screen character will follow the map in the same way. There is no other way to get the character to move. Thus, players of Pokémon Go are required to exercise and are motivated to do so. Players are rewarded for exercising more as this incubates their eggs and hatches more Pokémon. I have also seen first-hand the social interactions that the game evokes between players. Pokéstops are located at various points (indicated on the map) and these provide vital items to use within the game, such as Pokéballs. The Pokéstops are local areas of interest and a brief description is provided at each one. I lived in Huddersfield for most of my life, but this game indicated points of interest that I didn’t even know existed. Through playing it this summer, I agree that it feels like a new generation of game, and I agree with the benefits that The Atlanic and many others have highlighted.
What are the risks?
However, the potential dangers of the game have also been recognised. Many high profile incidents have been reported. As responsible educators, we should be aware of the risks. If we encourage Pokémon Go, we must emphasise the following safety instructions:
- Stay alert
- Do not trespass
- Do not play while driving/cycling
- Young children should be supervised when playing
Parents should be particularly aware of the Lure Module feature. Players can install a Lure into a Pokéstop and this attracts Pokémon to that area. Any players within that area benefit from increased amount of Pokémon, hence they are very popular spots and probably the best places to socialise with fellow gamers. However, this feature could be used to attract unsupervised children to unsafe areas or to unsafe people.
It is not my intention to scare parents, teachers or students. I am simply stating the risks. As long as you remain aware of them and follow common sense/ safety instructions, the game does not need to be discouraged (in my opinion).
Many bloggers have already shared their ideas of how Pokémon Go can be used in the classroom. I have collated a short list of good examples, but there are countless more ideas out there.
Pokémon Go has its critics. Whether the hype lasts remains to be seen, but its popularity right now cannot be disputed. The hype will eventually die down, but it has popularised AR and paved the way for many more AR experiences in the near future. Should teachers get on board? I’d love to hear your opinions on this one, so please comment below and keep the discussion going.
To summarise, forget Pokémon. Crazes come and go, but the timeless message of this post is this: Teachers should occasionally invest some time in exploring whatever their students are interested in. Whether it’s Pokémon, Minecraft, Frozen or football – show an interest as part of showing that you care.