The idea of relevance in relation to virtual and physical space is multifaceted. For example, when passing through familiar physical surroundings, we rely on our personal cognitive maps to guide us, yet we fail to truly ‘see’ the world around us (Stark 2016). Furthermore, certain public locations may pose zero interest to us meaning that we never make a conscious effort to travel there. After all, who really wants to hang out by that weird local mural?
The Niche Nursery Mural – A Pokestop in Thirroul
Turn that public artwork into a Pokestop, and it instantly acquires a whole new meaning and purpose. Pokémon Go’s virtual landscape has truly reformed our perception and understanding of our urban geography. Through digitising the physical ‘mundane’ and adding augmented reality technology that is attractive to people, Pokémon Go has afforded everyday public spaces a new and exciting significance for users. No longer is the Stanwell Park Surf Club just a building I pass by and disregard when I’m walking my dog. It is now my go-to Pokestop that I choose to visit daily to collect vital virtual resources for capturing Pokémon.
Stanwell Park Surf Life Saving Club – My local Pokestop
Public spaces have also regained relevance through Pokémon Go’s extension of the notion of property ownership (Abboud 2016). Although users might not actually ‘own’ a landmark or building, they can claim a virtual Pokémon Gym associated with the physical landmark, which is marked by their personal avatar.
‘Virtual ownership’ of a Pokémon Gym is not only a personal status symbol in the virtual Pokémon Go world, but also constitutes an important part of ‘team supremacy’ for Pokémon Go players. Players can choose to join either team Valor (red), Mystic (blue) or Instinct (yellow) and actively seek out, challenge and take over gyms of the opposite colour to establish their team’s dominance. The following video clip demonstrates how Pokemon Go players show allegiance to their team through defending a gym.
According to Abboud (2016) Pokémon Go is forcing us to reconsider how we view public space through its addition of a new and exciting virtual layer. Pokémon Go has the power to reinvigorate public spaces and drive human traffic towards them, which has been noted to have a significant impact on not only local landmarks and cultural artefacts, but also local businesses.
Tim* a Wollongong local and Pokémon Go tragic recalls Pokémon Go players flocking to LeVendi, a Wollongong café situated between multiple Pokestops, and purchasing ice-cream in the middle of winter when the app was first released. “Other people at the café were a bit weirded out by the hordes of 20-somethings all playing Pokémon together,” he explains “but I think the café owners would have been pretty stoked with how much money they were making from all the [Pokémon Go] players buying food there. If it wasn’t for Pokémon Go, they [LeVendi staff] probably would have missed out on thousands of dollars.”
LeVendi Cafe Wollongong – Fuelling your Pokemon catching journey since 2016 (2016)
Tim and I dropped our conversation pretty quickly when our phones buzzed telling us that a Dragonite was nearby, and ran off in different directions to locate the elusive beast. Thankfully, the lighthouse was relatively quiet that day, so there were no Pokémon Go stampedes, the likes of which we saw in Taiwan.
Pokemon Go players block roads in Taiwan to catch the elusive Pokemon, Snorlax (Editorial Staff 2016)
Although the numbers of Pokémon Go players have declined since the app’s release, hardcore fans like myself, aren’t phased. It’s easy to get caught up in the wonder of augmented reality, and many Pokémon Go players simply wished to revisit their childhood out of nostalgia for the past. Like any new technology, interest peaks and declines, our short attention spans quick to jump to the next big technological development.
However, I believe true fans of Pokémon will stick by the app and will continue to explore their physical surroundings guided by the enticing allure of catching ‘em all. I’ll keep visiting the Stanwell Park Surf Club Pokestop, chatting to my Pokémon-obsessed friends over coffee near the Niche Nursery Mural at Thirroul and occasionally peeping over someone’s shoulder at uni to see what Pokémon they’ve caught.
Poorly drawn explanatory drawing #6: Checking out which Pokemon people caught on campus at uni (creepiness enhanced 20% for extra impact)
Places that we’ve never cared about before suddenly hold new meanings, memories and virtual narratives that will stay forever in the hearts of Pokémon Go players. The virtual world of Pokémon Go may be invisible to non-fans, but when I look out of my bedroom window and down the road, I know there’s a whole new world out there to explore.
*Name changed to protect privacy
Abboud, R 2016, Public space verses Pokémon Go, image, ArchitectureAU, viewed 28 October 2016, <http://architectureau.com/articles/public-space-versus-pokemon-go/>>
Caldwell, S 2016, A gym battle in Pokémon Go, image, iMore, viewed 28 Obtober 2016, <http://www.imore.com/how-to-win-gym-battles-pokemon-go>
Editorial Staff 2016, Pokémon Go players block roads in Taiwan to catch the elusive Pokémon, Snorlax, image, Nextshark, viewed 28 October 2016, <http://nextshark.com/taipei-taiwan-pokemon-go-stampede/>
LeVendi Café Wollongong – Fuelling your Pokémon catching journey since 2016, Panoramio, viewed 28 October 2016, <http://www.panoramio.com/photo/33670020>