In a very short time after its first release, the mobile game, Pok?mon Go has attracted massive global attention and generated millions of downloads. Along with its huge success, we?ve heard all kinds of accidents happened while players walking around with their smartphones, to hunt and catch Pok?mons.
One guy broke his phone?as he tried to hit the Pok?mon appeared ?on the ground? in front of him.?Another broke his foot?and ended up in the hospital. A number of institutions in different countries tried to ban the game out of privacy and public safety concerns.
Why is there such controversy tied with the game?
What makes Pok?mon Go different from other trendy games such as Candy Crush or Draw Something is its adoption of Augmented Reality (AR). Although it is not the first AR application, it is the first time that the technology is in the view of an enormous number of users across different demographics. Putting it into a big picture, the Pok?mon Go hype could promote AR to the mainstream and inspire its applications in many other fields. Moreover, the game serves as a rare opportunity for AR?s user testing on a very large scale.
The idea of AR is to create an ?enriched? reality by superposing digital world onto physical environments. To access and interact with an AR system is a very different experience from browsing information ?contained? on our laptop or smartphone screen. Therefore, designing for AR is very different from designing for screens, and problems arise when we don?t get it right.
So from the ?Pok?mon Go experiment?, what problems do we observe?
1. AR changes people?s perception of reality
It is almost like a joke when the guy who broke his phone playing Pok?mon tweeted ?don?t throw your phone it doesn?t work?. Did he really believe that he could hit the Pok?mon on the ground? Perhaps not. But it is not totally an irrational act or a single incident.
? Martin (@OfficiallyMJB) July 6, 2016
Similar to Virtual Reality (VR), AR is designed to hijack people?s mind and trick them to see the digital creations the same way they would see an actual object in the physical world. Part of the fun comes when players accept the idea that the Pok?mons exist in the physical world around them, instead of merely computer-generated graphics on the screen. However, the only way a user could interact with the augmented world is through the smartphone. In another word, the visual effect tries to convince the users that the digital objects are ?embedded? in the real world while the limited interaction on the screen pulls them back from that perception. It can be tricky for the mind to process this contradiction.
2. Screens aren?t designed for AR
Ever since smartphone becomes mainstream, accidents happen a lot when people are glued to their screens and couldn?t be aware of any events around them, especially while driving or walking.?Hong Kong?s subway stations play an announcement?that warns people not to look at their mobile phones while taking the elevator.
Screens are not designed to be used along with physical movements. Interestedly, playing with AR on smartphones requires a user to look only at his screen while moving or interacting with the physical world. If AR is about information projected in the real space, why should we depend on the small-sized screens to access such information? By providing handsfree experience and a broader view without obstruction, wearable devices such as Google glass would be more suitable for AR experiences.
3. AR challenges social norms and regulations
There have been lots of reports on how Pok?mon Go players act irresponsible and disrespectful in places like war memorials, cemeteries, and restricted areas.?A number of memorials urged their visitors not to play?the game at their premises. Companies such asBoeing has banned Pok?mon Go?play at work.
Comparing to traditional mobile or laptop applications, AR deal with a much more complex and diverse context, especially when the system covers a large geographic area. Besides physical context, social context is also crucial. Human beings are deeply social animals. If a system design encourages behaviors that go against social norms, it will either make the user or the people around them uncomfortable. Therefore, the experience design for AR requires extensive research into user?s behavior in all the scenarios and extra considerations on its social impact.
The success of Pok?mon Go is largely due to the availability of smartphones in the market. While the game developer takes advantage of smartphones, they also have to work with its limitations, such as the small screen and limited interaction. People usually don?t blame the game. Even if undesirable accidents happen, like the guy who broke his foot, gamers tend to be very tolerant. Because the most important aspect of a game design is to be fun. Trials and errors make the experience and peculiar acts are welcomed. But what about designing for an AR system with emphasis on efficiency and safety?
Pok?mon Go introduced AR technology to a huge number of people. As new technology constantly reshaping our life, we would expect to see more and more AR applications in a variety of industries. For designers, there are precious lessons to be learned from Pok?mon Go.