gotta catch em’ all- online digital ethnography

The release of the augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go created a huge phase of obsession as it broke records, with more people playing it than people using twitter. (Geist) But as quickly as the game boomed in popularity, it soon died out as a trend, leaving only truly enthused players left to continue. The duration of my gameplay was somewhere in the middle of these two groups, I certainly kept playing for a long time after the initial hype died out, as people would often say to me, “Oh, do you still play that? I didn’t think anyone played it anymore. I totally forgot it existed.” I probably played for a bit over a year all together, until my phone’s GPS stopped working properly, making it impossible for me to play as this feature was vital to the function of the game. Deep down I was kind of relived, it gave me no choice but to stop playing a game that would drain my battery, force me to never look up from my phone, and prevent me from using other important features on my phone.

The most interesting thing that ever happened to me while playing Pokémon Go was during the first initial stage of its release when me and my friends would drive around hunting Pokémon and battling gyms, which was always a fun aspect as it included collaboration and social activity, as compared to the isolation I sometimes felt when I played on my own once everyone else stopped playing. My and my friend were parked near a local oval at about 8pm, it was dark by now and we were battling a gym in order to take over. Suddenly, a police car pulled up near us. With slight panic, we wondered if they were going to get out of their car and talk to us. Were we doing something wrong? Were we in trouble? They asked what we were doing, and we admitted with honesty our gameplay, to which they asked no more questions. However, they didn’t leave, which left us a bit confused until we realised what they were doing, they were battling our gym. After defeating our Pokémon and claiming their spot in the virtual gym, they quickly sped off. We were in shock, and didn’t stop laughing, my friend immediately told everyone online what just happened.

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A tweet including a photo of me and the same friend also got posted on Twitter, which then got reposted onto an Instagram page with over 80000 followers.

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When considering Pokémon Go as a media form, it’s interesting as you watch the virtual and physical combine. Both in consideration of the function of the game, as it combines real life spaces with GPS to create virtual interactions depending on your real-life location and integrating goals and challenges of collecting and training Pokémon characters (Geist). However, more interestingly when considering this game in ethnographical studies, is the way people come together and interact when playing this game, as real-life collaboration can give you a great advantage in relation to achieving in-game goals. Communities have been formed on social media sites such as Facebook and Reddit in order to organise physical meetups and share tips, tricks and stats in order to gain knowledge in improving your game. When these meet-ups occur, it causes a shift in the relationship between players, as they met through digital means in order to physically be together, in order to play a virtual game. This shows an interesting crossover, blurring the lines between literal and digital, which further implements how fascinating this game is, and the interactions that form from it.


Geist, M 2016 ‘Pokémon Go Craze Brings New “Augmented Reality” Legal Issues into Light’ Michael Geist

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