Pokémon Go Considered Harmful

These days I raise up from bed knowing that Pokémon Go is one of the most download mobile apps, and that is probably wrong.

Having been born in the 90’s, it’s an interesting proposal from Nintendo to try and have us live like Ash in the most vivid experience that today’s Augmented Reality technology can provide for the masses.

It’s also probably the most massive virtual overlay reality that has been deployed yet, and it reminds me a bit about Halting State (C. Stross). However, now that this is no longer fiction, we must think again about where are we leading our ways into.

For one, Nintendo has managed to engage a large demographic in their experiment. A demographic mostly from the 90’s, where the original games were launched, so they are hypercommunicated, and are now also hopefully employed, and used to micropayments and a lack of privacy. Which makes the strategy of having this as a Free to Play/Pay to Win very attractive. It is from a corporate standpoint, marvelously created. But let’s think on the information that may leak.

From a more privacy-concerned viewpoint, in order to participate in this virtual world you must tell it where you are and what do you see. Of course, there is no other way to bind your flesh and eyes to both realities of your location cannot be pinpointed. But that is indeed a point of concern, because you are now giving your location to another company besides your cellphone OS provider (Google or Apple). You are also disclosing continuously where you are on order to pin captured Pokémon to places, those places linking back to you.

Also, as playing the game and getting to these hot locations may trigger your brain’s reward center, many people will try and go to them. Which means Nintendo has the power to artificially create crowds. Think about that alone for a second. But that’s not all, they can also know which places are more busier just by randomly placing objects in the world and measuring the time it takes to have them redeemed. But in a more active schema, in a world of Mr. Robot, and fsociety, where corporations can be, and actually are, attacked by crackers and hacktivists, and where employees may go rogue, let’s imagine the world could be a bit more malleable.

In such a world, protestors could put high-reward items in off-limit regions, and if the reward was high enough, it is not much difficult to imagine riots, physically violence, trespassing, breaking and entering… The list of possible criminal rewarding could grow by forcing some interactions with the real world. We have already seen these in fiction, most recently in Person of Interest, in the Samaritan agent early recruiting episodes. But this could just today become a reality, and it would be just as unnoticeable as it was there.

Bottom line, you better think twice on how you trigger your brain’s reward center, and let’s hope you don’t do it for some piece of immaterial intangible virtual asset.

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