Inhabitants of the Pokémon Go universe have an uncanny ability to recognize one another.
Since I started playing the game, I’ve had some kind of interaction with a fellow player almost every day. Sometimes we join forces to win in-game battles. Sometimes we will glance at each other’s phones and share a slight nod. Or, we actually stop and talk.
Pokémon trainers Micheal Periman and Jeff Arends are familiar with those moments of recognition. I met them outside the Forestry Building on the University of Montana campus. The spot is a popular hangout for trainers because of the abundance of Pokéstops, which provide them with items to catch and manage their Pokémon.
Periman said it’s usually pretty easy for him to spot a fellow trainer. Since the game launched, he’s talked to a lot of new people.
He pointed to a woman walking past us. “She’s playing Pokémon.”
Arends looked apprehensive. “I’m not sure.”
“She’s flicking her thumb,” Periman said.
“Despite the fact that we’re looking at our phones,” Periman said, “our powers of observation have increased.”
The Pokémon Go community is one of the first and largest gaming communities to use augmented reality. In order to play, Pokémon trainers must view the world through their phones, where a surreal parallel dimension overlaps the real one. Exploring an alternative reality seems to encourage positive social interactions.
From a journalistic perspective, this shared reality provides a shortcut to gaining a source’s trust. Instead of investing time and energy into stalking, persuading and interrogating, you’re embedded. You talk how they talk and see what they see. You’re a member of an underground movement, all thanks to an app on your phone.
Journalists have always had to identify the reality of a situation in order to report factually. Point of view drives narratives, and augmented reality can expand the cultural universe to include a common experience among strangers. This is precisely the world of journalists as they search for stories. Augmented reality is just one more shared experience.
If journalists represent the adventurers in our culture, augmented reality broadens the horizon of their connections, revealing the path to a new frontier.
Alyssa Rabil is the social media and communications coordinator of the University of Montana School of Journalism. She lives in Missoula with her two cats and enjoys watching Montana wildlife.