Augmented Reality Finally Catches On.

Written By on July 12, 2016

AKA: What are these Pokee-Mans and where are they going?

There’s a little phenomenon that’s taken over the phones and social streams of everyone aged 10 to 30-something. If you’ve been on planet Earth in the last week or so, you’ve almost certainly heard of or seen seemingly random hordes of people gathering at equally random locales, all staring and swiping intently at their smartphones. Made by Niantic, offspring of Google’s Alphabet, it’s called Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO uses augmented reality and a healthy dose of geolocating to get people to run around and capture cute little relics from the 90s called Pokémon. This is nothing new to gamers and 90s kids, who’ve been training Nintendo’s little monsters for decades on handheld game devices. As a digital app, Pokémon GO is one of the catchiest uses of augmented reality to date. As a game, it’s pretty darn fun. Beyond making augmented reality downright viral, Pokémon GO is doing something even more impressive.

See the World, Meet New People, Catch Some Pokémon:

One little nostalgia-fueled app is getting people to go out and get exercise, interact, and help each other in the real world. In a slightly ironic twist, it’s also using Pokémon to lure people into discovering some “treasure” in their cities: historical locations and landmarks. The data behind these comes from Ingress, another app by Niantic. Pokéstops—where “trainers” go to restock items—are placed upon local historical landmarks, museums, or public art pieces. Show up at a Pokéstop and you’ll usually be treated to an entry about the history of the place.

Like most new technology, it’s not perfect. Some Pokéstops can be found in dark alleys or other sketchy places, but Niantic is allegedly pretty good about removing stops that get reported in. Whatever its flaws, the pure glee around the app that has been rippling across the Internet and out in the real world is pretty phenomenal to behold. People are getting out there together and having fun, finding immediate common ground with one another, and maybe learning to love their cities a little more with every catch. Pretty admirable for one little app, no?

Beyond the feel-good impact of the app, the marketing potential of Pokémon GO merits its own post. But more on that another time. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Meowth down the street I need to catch. He’s been eluding me all week.