I watched this video the other day, showing that even among Pokémon Go's "target demographic" there's a wide range of opinion about the game.

As a tool to get people out of their houses and socializing, Pokémon Go seems to be working very well. Most of the places it's causing problems are where the AR overlay just doesn't mesh well with whatever's actually in reality at that point, such as a somber memorial site or museum...or a cliff. Pokémon Go triggers ire and danger that Ingress did not because Ingress players can generally play by just sitting quietly with their phones near the point of interest; there's no element of running around with a camera, excitedly telling friends you found a Flareon.

One teen in the video also makes the point that a Pokémon player isn't necessarily really experiencing the interesting places tagged as destinations by the game, if they're really only looking for the Pokémon.

Pokémon Go is a good first step in a good direction; there are just a lot of rough edges to file off. One big question is: what's a better way to incentivize visiting a place in a way that better honors the "flavor" of that place?

Achievements for Not Playing

There are some games (like The Stanley Parable) that offer an ironic achievement for not playing the game for a given amount of time. A productivity app called Forest grows a tree only if the user leaves their phone alone for the time it takes to grow it. Movie theaters make apps that generate coupons when you leave your phone in silent mode in the theater. Even WoW offers "Resting XP" for taking a break (at least on a per-character basis). Pokémon Go could do a similar thing by enacting special Pokéstops at places where Pokemon-hunting in the usual way would be disruptive.

It would work like this: upon arriving at the memorial or outdoor art garden, the game notices you've stepped into that zone. No Pokémon spawn in the area, but the game promises you that if you leave your phone only in Pokémon Go, or in regular camera mode (real photos; no Pokemon) you will receive some prize that you don't have to chase in, say, 15 minutes. It would have to be a rather big prize in order to be worth the amount of time spent waiting for it. So for 15 minutes, you can't use your phone for much of anything useful. You might as well actually look at the memorial or admire the art.

It wouldn't be difficult to work this smoothly into the game, so that it blends more seamlessly with reality instead of looking too much like "censorship" or policing. A statement like "This is a place of great sadness, so Pokémon don't like to gather here" would be perfectly reasonable.

Real-World Assignments

If I had a child who wanted to play Pokémon Go, I'd initiate a house rule in addition to whatever safety considerations were already needed: on every trip, a player has to come back with some information about a real thing they saw or noticed on the walk, or else incorporate a chore into it. It would be something like "You can go to any safe place, but swing by the store and get some milk on your way back" or "Bring back photos of any three different real animals you see." This reads like a sort of blend of Pokémon Go and Habitica.

People emphasize that it's the players' responsibility to use games in a safe and polite manner--and this is true--but developers need to be aware that whatever behavior their game enables acts as a Broken Window effect. If the game suggests that a particular behavior is "optimal" for some goal and gives no obvious penalty for it, then people will be drawn to that behavior. Anyone who claims their despicable actions "were just business" is doing the same thing.

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