The term “augmented reality” refers to technologies — like Pokemon Go — that superimpose characters and other objects on images of the real world.
But does “augmented reality” necessarily augment reality? The term “augment” connotes an improvement, not just an addition. Just consider that in the last few weeks Pokemon Go has been reported to:
- Display characters at the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Holocaust Museum.
- Result in someone driving into a police car.
- Lead two hikers to fall off a cliff.
In light of these and other examples, we have to ask: Could the creators of have given more careful thought to the ways in which the game would interact with real-world spaces, and the consequences of those interactions? And can those who play the game bring some degree of mindfulness to their playing of the game, so that they remain attuned to the nature of the real-world spaces in which they play the game?
Many have defended the game for the reason that it leads people to go outside into the “real world” and into “nature” more than they would otherwise. Even if we were to assume that this is true (and no one who has made the claim seems to feel the need to prove it), is it really praiseworthy if the moment-to-moment attention of gameplayers is focused so intensely on the virtual–rather than the real–elements of their environment that the real elements might just as well be virtual? Should we encourage or defend a way of being physically in nature that involves being mentally and emotionally absent from nature?
Although I realize that the examples provided above are extremes, it would be interesting to know whether those who play Pokemon Go actually pay more or less attention to the real elements of their environment than those same people pay when not playing the game. I can certainly imagine that technology could supplement one’s sensory experience of the real world with virtual elements in ways that would draw one more into the real world. (The virtual equivalent of existing signs on nature trails giving pointers on how to spot native birds is one extremely simple example.) Although such technology could be worthy of the term “augmented reality” if it were used mindfully and actually resulted in people having a richer direct experience of the real world, Pokemon Go (at least in its current incarnation) does more to supplant reality than augment it.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!