Pokémon (WHO) Go(es?)

For the past week or two, I’ve been trying to piece together the Pokémon Go phenomenon without reading anything beyond what pops up on my social media feed (without following links), overheard conversations, and observing the strange behaviour in my everyday spaces.

This morning was the first time I broke my rule to not follow links and read an article. Not surprisingly because it asks my recurring question: “Who?”

Why You Should Care About Pokémon Go

The game and its successors will change our relationships with our neighbourhoods. It’s a good time to ask: who decides how?

By Hugh Stimson, 15 Jul 2016 | TheTyee.ca



I’ve seen lots of back and forth debates about whether Pokémon Go is good or bad for cities and people’s use of cities, the potential health benefits of extra walking, the contribution to ubiquitous plugged-in life, etc.

There have certainly been superficial and ridiculous arguments on both sides of the pro/con coin toss.

But my own research and interest in a wide variety of phenomena that impact life in the city leads me to rarely think of anything as particular good or bad until you ask: “By whom?” “For whom?” “Without whom?” “Benefiting whom?” “At whose cost?”

Walking around Ottawa this weekend, it was great to see Confederation Park (apparently a P-G hotspot) filled with people. . . but it was eerily quiet as people shared physical space with one another but without interaction. Groups of friends huddled together but focused on their screens at not each other.

The Black Mirror‘esque distopia seems ever closer and ever more frightening than the Bladerunner distopia.

There are lovely stories from friends of taking their children out for long walks together and playing together.

There are terrifying (and terrifyingly fast) commodification of the collective obsession with dozens of shops I walk by advertising “lure parties” (with minimum purchase, of course).

But as Stimson points out, a very important consideration is that data and algorithms are not value neutral and public space is rarely equally public space. This is not a great democratizer of space. If you think about it carefully, it is hard to imagine it doing anything more than reinforce the existing inequities of space.

It is probably good for those who already have it pretty good in our cities.

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