Is our strange fascination for mobile games and augmented reality something we are authentically pursuing as disciplined consumers — or are we actually being consumed? We like to think we’re disciplined consumers but if we don’t find time to unplug and look around, we may wake up and realize we’ve become victims of an extremely addictive and lucrative game.
Pokémon GO has taken the country by storm and in the process, has made location based augmented reality mobile games relevant and mainstream. It is finally a common topic of discussion not just for hard-core gamers but also among parents, teachers and coaches. The game, which thrives on users capturing, battling, and training virtual creatures became, in one week, one of the most downloaded apps in the history of smart phones. A recent USA Today headline read: “MASSIVE CROWD BEGINS STAMPEDING AFTER SPOTTING RARE POKEMON IN CENTRAL PARK.”
In gearing up for the Rio Olympics, Japan’s World Champion gymnast Kohei Ichimura was stunned to realize he had racked up $5000 in data roaming charges prior to the games. He was searching for the elusive virtual creatures in the Olympic Village, even though Pokémon GO was not due to launch in Central or South America until after the Opening Ceremony. And Pokémon GO’s Wikipedia includes this incredibly bold claim:
“It has brought augmented reality to the mainstream, and is praised by some medical professionals for potentially improving the mental and physical health of players…”
The power and popularity of these games are undeniable. What is the science behind these addictive mobile games? How can we protect ourselves so we enjoy them and get the most out of them without being “gamed” by them? These are important questions and it is imperative that we remain educated and honest about this complex conversation and explore the positive and negative impact not with judgment, but with discernment.
The most popular childhood game has always been and hopefully will remain “Hide and Seek.” The game is very basic in theory. One person hides and the other tries to locate them. There are no badges, rewards, boundaries, technology, apps, or time restraints (except when the street lights come on or dinner is ready). The game is powered by four of the most powerful and pure game dynamics (or motivating emotions): Mystery, Incentive, Laughter and Empowerment (MILE™). The Mystery is where the person is hiding. The Incentive is for the hider to hide and the seeker to find them so the seeker can hide. The Laughter is inevitable as two or more kids build friendship, community and trust in the spirit of play. And the Empowerment is in the ownership and control of the game when the hider claims their space and the seeker proclaims, “ready or not, here I come”.
When these four, authentic, positive dynamics are in the hands of children at play, with no profit in play, it becomes pure gold for the kids. When these same dynamics are in the hands of advertisers, promoters, entertainment executives, etc., with tremendous profit in play, it can also become pure gold…for the companies producing the game. There are millions of dollars being spent and billions of dollars being “earned” to create the most powerful augmented reality/virtual reality mobile games and devices. It is up to us as consumers whether we will use them to further our development and enjoy them in moderation or whether we will be consumed by their power and become dependent on them for a false sense of hope, purpose and connection.
If we allow ourselves to get played into believing that this is a healthy replacement for true, authentic, face-to-face, human connection, then we will go from the consumer to the consumed. Instead, let’s work to find a healthy balance. We can celebrate the productive elements of technology while also recognizing the benefits of personal interaction. We can encourage each other to enjoy it, have fun with it, get educated from it, explore it, and then unplug it and look around. We know, from positive psychology research, that there are numerous contributing factors to living a meaningful and happy life.
One of the strongest predictors of high life satisfaction is the quality of our social relationships — -with our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors.
While it’s true that we can engage in augmented reality with other people, that’s not often what happens and when it does, we are together but are we connected? Augmented reality so often has us locked in with a false sense of togetherness, replacing the meaningful interactions that our relationships need to thrive. With that in mind, we hope that our society can take this dangerously powerful addiction to augmented reality and redirect it so the headlines tomorrow might read: “MASSIVE CROWD ‘STAMPEDES’ IN AN EFFORT TO BE PRESENT, IMPROVE THEIR HEALTH AND TREAT THEMSELVES AND OTHERS WITH LOVE AND GRACE.”
We are being played my friends. Let’s flip the switch and shine some light on this epidemic. The game is on, so let’s do our best to keep it real. Tag, you’re it.
Steve Shenbaum is the Founder & President of communication firm game on Nation, serves on the Advisory Board for Derek’s Jeter’s new media platform The Players’ Tribune and oversaw all communication, leadership & media training from 2003–2012 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL
Mike Erwin is the CEO of the Character & Leadership Center, the Chairman of the Board for Team Red, White & Blue and a veteran of three deployments to Iraq/Afghanistan.