Discovering (and rediscovering) public spaces through Pokémon GO

Not familiar with Pokémon GO? Check out the video below.

I learned about Pokémon GO about a week after its early July launch when two of my cousins—one 5-year-old and one 25-year-old—told me (with equal enthusiasm) that they were headed to a local park to capture some Pokémon. I was struck by their shared excitement to discover something new in a park they had both visited countless times before. When asked about the game’s appeal, the 25-year-old explained how “cool it is to see so many people out in [his] neighborhood” and referenced many landmarks the game had led him to discover. As Project for Public Spaces Fellow of Digital Placemaking Dan LaTorre explains, “Gamifying gives people a feeling of new permissions to explore the city.”

Since its launch four weeks ago, this free-to-play augmented-reality mobile game has become a global cultural phenomenon—encouraging players of all ages to explore their cities in search for Pokémon. In the process, players discover city landmarks (a.k.a. Pokéstops), including Levitt Pavilion Arlington and Levitt Pavilion Westport, and local businesses—many of which are now offering special incentives for Pokémon GO players. After only a week on the scene, the wildly popular game had attracted approximately 25 million active users—in the United States alone. 

Whether this kind of engagement is sustainable remains to be seen, but in the meantime people are out and about, discovering and rediscovering their communities alongside their neighbors—building connections to both people and places.

One player recounted a new friendship formed through the game with a woman whose interest in hunting Pokémon was sparked while spending time with her young nephew. Whether bonding with a loved one or building new relationships, numerous players have referenced the appeal of connecting with others through the game. 

About a week ago, curiosity finally got the best of me and I gave Pokémon GO a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to discovering new sites of historical and cultural significance in the town where I was raised, I felt a new sense of pride seeing my local park activated by Pokémon GO players of all ages. Pokémon GO has been lauded and critiqued—but regardless of your stance on the game, it’s clear that this augmented-reality milestone has created new ways to build connections to your neighborhood, as well as your fellow neighbors.

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