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What journalists can learn from Pokémon Go

Melody Kramer, NPR — I’m not what you could call a video game enthusiast. I think the last game I truly mastered was Tetris, and the only hazy memories I have of the original Pokémon games are my brothers shouting things to each other while playing GameBoy during car trips to see our grandmother.

Last week’s release of Pokémon Go, though, made me reconsider my lack of enthusiasm — in part because I see Pokémon Go’s augmented reality interface as a potentially useful tool for newsrooms.

I’ll explain the game first, in case you’re like me and don’t know a Charmander from a Pikachu. In Pokémon Go, like all of the Pokémon video games, players catch creatures called Pokémon and then train them to fight one another. What’s different about this new version, though, is that it uses an augmented reality interface, which means players walk around outside and capture Pokémon in real locations.

The game’s interface looks like a map. Once a Pokémon is spotted, players can see it (and take a picture of it) using their smartphone cameras. They can also walk around and capture useful items at other stops around town. If you’ve been out and about this week and noticed people in odd locations looking at their phones, they may have been playing the game.

It’s a fun, escapist activity that gets people off their couches and interacting with other people outside. But Pokémon Go is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this kind of technology: There will be other games and experiences that build on this kind of augmented reality and create immersive, real-world experiences for participants.

So what can journalists learn from the success of Pokémon Go, and how should we be thinking about possibilities for augmented reality beyond Google Glass? Here are a few ideas and questions to ponder.

How can journalists augment the experience within or alongside augmented reality games?

If people are traveling to various locations in your town or city, are there ways in which we could give players more information in the app or coupled alongside it? If Pokémon Go releases an API that allows coders to create in-app experiences, would it be possible to show restaurant reviews, infrastructure reports about various buildings, or news photos from that location?

From a reporting standpoint: Are there ways to report on the most trafficked locations? Are there ways to lead people playing the game to their next action? This seems like a perfect place for advertising, but it’s also one where information sharing can potentially flourish. Perhaps players visit a location, and then see archival news stories related to that location, or learn more about a place and are then prompted to take an action. Or perhaps players notice something in that location that’s worthy of a news story in and of itself.

How could newsrooms make themselves available to the many people who are participating in augmented reality spaces who are now part of a much larger network? What does commenting or communication look like in on these platforms? (Is it simply talking to others within the platform? External to it? And if so, is there a way to surface or capture that information that would indicate what players would like to learn more about?)

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