Historical markers and memorials gain new life in virtual reality game Pokémon Go.
SO, there I was, standing by the resting place of Nano Nagle, trying to catch a Jigglypuff.
It was beginning to rain and the damn thing just wouldn’t give up. One more try, I told myself. Then, at the tenth attempt, my pokeball landed squarely on the Jigglypuff’s head and the creature was mine.
But I wasn’t finished. Despite the rain, which was now beginning to fall like some giant Squirtle had taken revenge on me, I soldiered on. My journey to Nano Nagle’s grave had produced some useful items and the nearby Jigglypuff was now mine, but there was still so much to do. The gym I wanted to rule, stationed at St Finbarr’s Cathedral, was currently held by a rival team — the only way to beat them was to find a stronger pokemon.
I had a choice. I could walk back towards St Finbarr’s, in the hope of finding a more powerful creature along the way, or of finding some items to evolve the pokemon I had captured. Or, I could walk in the opposite direction, away from my home base, knowing the further I travelled the rarer the pokemon I would encounter.
I checked the possible routes on my phone, on a system just like Google maps, but landmarks were now pokestops and trainer gyms. The nearest stop was Fionn Barra’s pub — not a good idea. After all, pokemon are a lot harder to catch after six pints of stout and a chaser. This time, I was the one doing the chasing.
Instead, I choose a commemorative plaque as my next stop, one that remembered the heroes of the 1916 Rising.
Surely, this was the modern Ireland they had fought for — men in their 30s capturing digital monsters on the streets of Cork. The rain started to fall heavier, making it more difficult to use my phone in the open.
But I diligently followed my GPS movements on the map, until I came to the plaque, where its discovery earned me extra experience points and some incense. Bingo! The incense would draw wild pokemon to my location for 30 minutes. I took a moment to remember the plaque and the people it honoured. Like many such pokestops, this local landmark had been unknown to me before today.
I used the incense, dousing myself in the equivalent of pokemon pheromones, briefly panicking at the thought of several Drowzees taking an unnatural liking to an Irish lad wandering the streets alone. Then, I held my phone bravely in front of me and began to walk in the direction of my next pokestop, a nearby church.
Suddenly, it happened. My phone buzzed, like a Pikachu had zapped it. On the map, a Mankey appeared. Not a rare pokemon in my parts, but a powerful version. Powerful enough, maybe, to take the gym I wanted. Using my phone’s camera, I could see it was sitting on a nearby wall. Just two pokeballs later, thrown with a swipe of my hand on the screen, and the Mankey was mine.
It was getting dark now. I considered returning home, to my base. I could incubate some eggs, perhaps, put my 36 pokemon in order. But my legs still had some walking in them — so I set off to St Finbarr’s in search of my rightful title.
Pokemon Go has now been released in Ireland and it is clearly catching on. If the picture isn’t clear from the above account, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game — it uses the world around us as a platform for the gameplay.
It’s designed to get people (children especially) out walking and discovering new places. And, despite some technical glitches and a lack of any real depth, it works really well. The only downside to playing a game outside is, well, you’re outside.
Players will interact with the commemorative monuments which surround us with a newfound interest, and perhaps engage with history in the process.
Holding a phone up on the streets of Cork feels more anti-social than staying at home to do the same, but there’s no doubt that Pokemon Go encourages a deep awareness of landmarks and the places that surround us. It’s a big, literal step forward for augmented reality.