White abstract glyphs on black background

Pokemon Go, Semantic Overlay of Delight

by AK Krajewska

If people are carrying a magic window with them, use it to help them see and understand what they’ve been trained to ignore

— LET THE RIGHT HON IN (@hondanhon) September 25, 2017

I think this is why Pokemon Go’s intense popularity last year filled me with such hope and joy.

Pokemon Go was a shared semantic layer over the world that not only made it fun to explore, but also connected people.

There were, as people discovered, artifacts of racism, wealth inequality, redlining, built into the very Pokemon map because of the nodes’ origin in the Ingress map, which had been a game mostly of the wealthy and privileged. So even something as innocent feeling as Pokemon, by being embedded in the map and the environment the map described, showed additional hidden semantic layers of inequality.

Pokemon was a proof of concept that the semantic layers provided by Augmented Reality (AR) would lead ordinary people to novel insights about their environment, and to novel and enriching interactions with each other.

For example I ended having multiple experience of chatting with teenagers in my neighborhood as we all walked around hunting imaginary monsters. Normally we would have nothing in common obvious enough to talk about.  Future AR semantic overlays of the built environment need not be games. Games are a pretty fun way to do it, though.