It’s midnight. There are 200 people congregating just outside my front door. My initial thought: “youths”. I look out the window, my inner Victor Meldrew itching to get out and shake a fist at rowdy teenagers. But they’re not teenagers. Well, some are teenagers, but others are adults – male, female, young, old. They’re all playing Pokémon Go – a new location-based augmented reality mobile game.
Yes, I’ve seen the hashtags on Twitter and the ‘10 GIFs everyone who plays Pokémon Go can relate to’ on Buzzfeed, but this was my first time seeing Pokémon hunters in their natural habitat; outside. Seriously, don’t these people know that just round the corner from the virtual Mew-Two they’re hunting, there’s a pub that serves real beer?
While I’m not quite ready to catch them all, I’ve loved watching this trend explode. Particularly the stories that surround how this game is helping those with autism ‘break the 4th wall’ – the barrier between autistic individuals and neuro-typicals.
A recent viral article doing the rounds on Facebook speaks of a mothers joy at watching her normally non-verbal son engage in pragmatic speech with total strangers. The article explains how those around the young boy helped to spur on his search for Pokémon, reaching out to advise where Pokémon were hiding. The boy’s mother says this resulted in her child looking at people in the eye to say thanks, and even sharing a high-five with a fellow gamer. The article ends with the mother saying thank you to Pokémon Go, for helping her son to realise something she never thought was possible.
My autistic child is socializing… This is AMAZING… Thank you Nintendo! ASD mama’s dream!!!
This story is backed up by studies completed by learning institutes across the world; that augmented reality can help people with asperger’s syndrome or autism to see how unreal or imaginative things can come to live in their real world. Children with autism are often visual learners and thinkers. This means, according to a study completed by Cambridge University, that ‘by externalising mental images somewhere else in (their) reality, it may help them pick up the concept of imaginative play’. As adults, this concept may help them interact with people around them, as well as teaching them how to react to the wealth of different experiences that we all encounter throughout our lives.
Could manipulated realities become more than just a convenient way to access information or to game? Could they become a great leveller across the learning spectrum? Will it be that those on the autism scale can use AR or VR as an invaluable tool to help them relate to the world around them on a day to day basis?
Brands have a responsibility to probe the possibilities that this technology offers. Not just as innovation for innovations sake, but as a way to engage with their often over-looked audience, and to use innovation for good. Brands shouldn’t assume, whilst Pokémon Go is a gaming trend, that these learnings don’t apply to them. We all want to engage with the world around us, beyond the often 2-dimensional brand experience offered by smart phones. If brands can make this easier for those consumers who find it the hardest, through the use of AR or VR, then surely this is something they have an obligation to explore and implement.
Pokémon Go has made explorers out of all of us, and now it’s the turn of other brands. Let’s just hope they won’t be stood outside my front door at midnight.