Can Location-Based Gaming Increase Sustainability?

An interesting article on Forbes by writer Kalev Leetaru about the potential of Augmented Reality Location gaing (similar to Pokemon Go) to save the planet:

Pokemon Go has been lauded for getting legions of pudgy Millennial and Homelander/Plural generation gamers off their duffs and exercising in the real world. But there is more to location-based games, which in the long run might turn gamers into an army for good in the real world.

Telling quote:

Imagine a world in which those 75 million Pokemon Go players fanning out across the planet could double as the world’s greatest mapping platform, crowdsourcing a realtime catalog of everything from potholes to trash dumps and feeding those back to cities and NGOs to fix. They could be saving the planet while catching a Pokemon.

Here’s the vision of sustainability from the article:

  1. The location-based features of Pokemon Go are more interesting to users than the augmented reality element
  2. Due to the app, millions of people are minutely exploring and inspecting their cities, towns, parks, and other spaces
  3. Keying in ways to do good – from reporting potholes within the app to walking shelter dogs could become part of this and other AR Games
  4. Future Augmented Reality/Location-based gaming could be intimately tied up in the “conspiracy for good” – with the software making everyone better citizens via games.

In other words, games, properly design and linked to reality via location, Augmented Reality, and similar techniques can provide benefits in real-world sustainability. Now, this idea isn’t all that new. A few years ago Jane McGongial covered this exact issue in her landmark book, Reality is Broken.

reality is broken why games make us better and how they can change the world

The thesis of the book is that gaming is in many way preferable to reality, and by making our reality more game-like we will work harder and be better citizens. TheMcGonigal must be pleased -the book essentially predicted what has happened with Pokemon Go.

Now, Reality is Broken covered all aspects of gaming and society, but I want to consider the value of AR location-based gaming in Sustainable Virtual Design. Will the future app world always have a location-based component, and will this actually make the world more sustainable?

AR and Location-Based App Sustainability

Since there are no figures yet, we will use a “green ingredient” strategy – consider whether aspect s of location-based games are likely to be more sustainable, or less sustainable. Here are some examples:

The first factor to consider is energy use. Compared to regular websites and apps, AR and Location sensing introduces an additional energy drain. In fact, Go players often turn off the AR portion to conserve battery power – running the camera as a constant video stream (and overlaying the virtual characters) takes a LOT of power.

On the other hand, the fact that location-based games are by definition mobile games means that gaming is being shifted away from 1000 Watt “Gamer” hot rods in favor of 30 watt smartphones, which is a win and a definitely green ingredient.

On the server side, AR and location-based gaming would seem to require a lot of on-demand infrastructure to stream player movements, locations, and keep track of the millions of virtual characters and objects superimposed into the reality. Probably a “less green” ingredient.

The big benefit here would be if gamers, while browsing through the real world, made a difference as they went. The Forbes article imagines apps which pop up a button during gameplay, allowing you to donate to, say, an animal shelter next to where you just bagged a virtual pocket monster.

In the past, I’ve noted that game design traditionally has followed a “hot rod” model – glorifying the pleasures of uninhibited (CPU) excess while ignoring energy and network impacts. With the arrival of Pokemon Go, there’s a chance that the tables will be turned in the direction of sustainable games.



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