Pokemon: Come Along for the Ride

GUEST-BLOG-ICONToday’s blog post is written Kathleen DrohanArts Consultant and Director, WQXR-FM Instrument Drive.

They’re everywhere this summer. If you’re not one of them, then you’ve seen them and, very likely, complained about them, but you can’t avoid them. I’m not talking about mosquitos or  political commentators, I’m talking, of course, about the automatons walking the streets, heads-bowed in concentration until their sudden, celebratory bellow “gotcha!” Yes, I’m talking about the estimated more than 20 million people daily who hunt for the elusive Pokemon in the wild (for the record, that’s more users than Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, or even Tinder).

If you’ve been under a rock, or just so consumed with the reality show that is our presidential election, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that one downloads onto their smart phone. The game allows the user to capture, battle, and train imaginary characters from the Pokemon universe, which appear as computer generated images on screens in real world settings. The game was initially conceived of in 2014 as part of an April Fools Day collaboration between the Pokemon Company and Google, but it’s potential was evident and it was released for download on July 6, 2016. To learn more about Pokemon Go and how it’s played, you need look no further than the internet, which is full of tutorials.

Whether it is here to stay or will burn out quickly, is anyone’s guess, but what is for sure, is that it marks a sea change in both technology and the interaction between our technological and real world lives. And, much like the Ice Bucket Challenge from a couple years ago, ignoring it is an option, but not a good one.  

There have been concerns about the game being played in places dedicated to serene reflection. Arlington Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum, and the National 9/11 Memorial have all asked that visitors refrain from their Pokemon quests while visiting.  Similarly, like texting, Pokemon hunting does require attention – driving should not be combined with gameplay.  

Still, for all the talk of zombie-like millennials staring at their phones, the game has inspired massive Meet-Up gatherings worldwide, which bring people together in real life for a fun communal experience. Game-players are spending unprecedented time outside and active, leading to unexpected health benefits as well. And arts organizations around the country and the world are adopting a cautious “if you can’t beat em, join em” attitude towards the game and it’s largely under 35 year old players are finding themselves welcomed into new cultural terrains.  

The map of where these elusive (but pretty easy to catch) creatures exist is extensive and includes some of our most well-known cultural centers. Many of them have joined in the action – Various creatures have been spotted at classical music venues around the country. Museums too have jumped on board and, despite some critics who say that the visitors are ruining the experience for those there to view the art, folks like the Philadelphia Museum of Art have seen as much as a 37% increase in the average attendance. The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts Pokemon Go themed tours of the exhibition spaces.  

Who knows if these game-hunters will return to Avery Fisher Hall or the Egyptian galleries, but one thing is for sure – it’s getting them there. As arts marketers, that’s at least 50% of our job.  The rest is keeping them coming back.  

The possibilities for augmented reality and it’s use as a marketing tool are endless. As a recent audience member of the Ghostbusters reboot, this writer could easily envision a promotional campaign that had me running around the city in hopes of capturing a ghost or two. I would love to peek in on historical meetings and events as I walked along the Freedom Trail, and a look at the source farms would be a great addition for foodies with an eye towards ethical eating. What is certain is that Pokemon Go represents a huge coming-out party for the technology and a good reminder that we can engage diverse audiences with new ideas.  

So, whether on not you can be bothered to catch the little monsters invading our streets and corridors, don’t miss the chance to embrace those who are after them.  

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