Pokemon Go’s Popularity Heralds Unique Combinations of Video Conference and Augmented Reality

Pokemon Go is an innovative combination of video conferencing and virtual reality.

You’ve been stalking this man for hours, but now that you’ve actually laid eyes on him your nerve is waning.

What you’ve learned from interrogating this guy’s colorful acquaintances leaves no doubt he’s the man you’re looking for. He’s turned a corner into an alley. You follow him in but freeze when you see his head swivel to reveal his profile, and one eye fixes on you.

Suddenly he spins completely around and raises a gun straight at you…

So you switch off your smartphone and make your virtual assailant disappear back into cyberspace.

This isn’t reality, this is augmented reality. And while the alley is real, and perhaps the fear as well, the criminal pictured on your phone is not.

Which means that once your heart rate quiets you can always have another shot at apprehending that vile criminal.

What Makes Pokemon Go?

The success of Pokemon Go has all but guaranteed smartphone app developers are planning further forays, such as the fictional one above, into the mixed reality gaming market.

The Niantic creation–which is part owned by somewhat faded gaming giant Nintendo and irrationally insatiable tech giant Google–is the most successful application of augmented reality technology to date, and the most popular mobile game in U.S. history.

The game tasks its players with chasing down and capturing cartoon Pokemon through real-world terrain, using a combination of GPS satellite location–by far the U.S. military’s greatest contribution to online gaming–and augmented reality software that superimposes the virtual over the real in the same way Fox superimposes a first down line over a football game.

The result is public hysteria like this:

Despite the fact you have to keep your eyes firmly on your smartphone screen, which is a tiny portion of your field of vision, in order to see the Pokemon, the blend of digital and real worlds has proved intoxicating enough to create a global phenomenon, even though it has only been officially released in five countries.

But the game could become even more immersive if the basics of video conferencing are introduced.

Video Conferencing with Pokeballs

What if the object of your hunt could speak to you? And not just through a pre-recorded animated snarl, but in an actual interaction.

It would mean using the video conferencing capabilities every smartphone possesses, and perhaps enlisting the support of some convincing actors.

Augmented reality video conferencing is already available, and can readily incorporate the virtual into the dynamic of a person-to-person video call. It lets participants project and manipulate digital displays of anything from building plans through to commercial prototypes, from clothing to furniture.

To turn the technology to a gamer’s advantage you’d have to modify the structure of Pokemon Go’s one-way streaming, and incorporate a second party. Both the player and their now human quarry would have to share the same world view from the player’s phone, and then the actor within the game could reveal their presence via a superimposed streaming broadcast at the opportune moment.

The switch from static, canned animation in the Pokemon world to a live, real-time video caller requires the presence of suitable surface on which to project the caller’s stream, but again, such tech is already being developed.

And as any Hollywood green screen expert will tell you, a lot can be projected onto an everyday surface, such as the wall of an alleyway, if the color-scheme is right. So it’s possible to replace recorded cartoon content with real, live human content within your augmented reality scavenger hunt.

All that’s left to do is imagine how the game would play out.

A Video Conferencing Murder Mystery

The longstanding murder mystery format might be a good place to start.

A group of people could be sent to a virtual crime scene in their local area, where they’d meet a police officer who’d tell them all the information there is to go on and offer several potential leads to be followed up.

Using the same GPS and Google Maps services Pokemon Go is based on the players could then break into smaller teams and set off into the real world to interrogate informants and suspects that pop up on their mobile phone radar.

The actors deployed safely back at the home studio could appear before and interact with their interrogators through the video conferencing cameras on their phones and finally lead everyone to a suitably scary destination where the murderer could be apprehended.

Obviously, the scale of interaction means the company behind the game couldn’t cater to thousands of simultaneous would-be detectives–although you could use the interactive, branching technology of video games to pre-record a question and response function.

Instead, for now, the human equivalent of Pokemon quarry may have to be the domain of specialized events, such as the scavenger hunts companies undertake in Las Vegas to add a little team bonding to their conference weekend.

The difference with a smartphone-based version is that both client and company could be based anywhere in the world, and the drama can be as intense as a troupe of actors and special effects wizards can make it.

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