One of the faintly unfortunate things about Pokémon Go – which obviously I’m not playing because I’m 42 no really wouldn’t dream of it – is that its ‘pokéstops’ appear at sites of potential interest to people on foot.
Pokémon Go is by Google-owned Niantic, the developers of earlier-and-still-popular augmented reality game Ingress. Where Pokémon Go has its stops and gyms, Ingress had ‘portals’, and the games encourage people to walk from portal to portal and from stop to gym to stop, to gather items or try to increase their team’s influence (go, Enlightened and Team Mystic, yay, etc etc tribalism etc).
But there’s a purpose behind all this – beyond making Niantic money from microtransactions, I mean. The portals, stops and gyms are all located at potential points of interest in the real world: statues, plaques, fountains, plazas… Anything that numbers of pedestrians might want to stop and look at. By gathering location data from Ingress and Pokémon Go players as they move between portals and stops, Niantic can feed data to Google to help them build up routing capability for their mapping systems in walking mode.
It’s really quite clever.
So why unfortunate?
Well, I have to admit to some vague sense of unease at the fact that there’s a pokéstop – and an associated portal in Ingress – at this local war memorial.
I’m ambivalent. On the one hand (and bearing in mind the order in which I present these is going to change the tone of this post more than I’d wish) it seems sort of Not Entirely Right somehow to make this sombre reminder of the price of human stupidity into a trivial waypoint for people running around playing silly games.
But then again, counters the Other Kate, the one in my head, it does draw people to this place. Many will pay no attention – just hack the portal or spin the stop and move on. But some will pause; some will read the names. Some will reflect, if only for a moment – and they could be people who might otherwise never have come here at all.
On balance, I think the Other Kate wins this one.