Pokémon GO: AR bringing us back into the real world



Love it or hate it, Pokémon GO is here and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. For those of you who have been living under a rock, or too far away from a Poke-Stop to care, here’s how it works: Users create a personalised avatar in the app. Then, via GPS, they navigate their local surroundings looking for Pokémon to catch. Along the way, they can collect valuable supplies from Poke-Stops – which are often real-world points of interest or landmarks – and battle opposing teams in dedicated gyms. The really fun part is the augmented reality integration. The Pokémon ‘appear’ right in front of you – which leads to a lot of cool photo opportunities.

In the space of a week, Pokémon GO has gone truly global. And it’s no different here in the UAE. In fact, the sense of collective frustration as the servers struggled to cope with global demand yesterday was palpable in the hot, dry streets of Dubai. Even I found myself experiencing withdrawal symptoms, anxiously checking my phone every few minutes.

So far, there has been a lot of negative rhetoric around the game – reports of accidents and the like, from people too engrossed in their phones to pay attention. However, our thoughts are this: Apply common sense, in the way you would when undertaking anyday-to-day activity and you will be just fine. It really is that simple. For the purpose of this blog, I want to take a look at the many positives coming out of the social phenomenon, partly based on my experiences from playing over the weekend. Here goes…


The game really does encourage you to explore your surroundings – I ended up with some fellow Pokémon Hunters in a new spot over the weekend and we stumbled across a previously unchartered stretch of beach. The result? We chatted, walked along and collected shells. What a nice way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Used properly, the app has the ability to make you see your surroundings in a new way. Perhaps you will discover a hidden coffee shop in your busy neighbourhood, or a spot of nature which was hidden away. I know that I have already made plans this week to get out and see new parts of Dubai which I haven’t yet had a chance to visit. The impetus to explore your surroundings can only be a good thing, surely?

Getting active!

It’s summer. It’s Dubai. It’s really, really hot. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of sitting indoors all weekend, basking in an air-conditioned environment. It does become quite a sedentary existence and it is very hard to find the motivation to keep active in this weather. However, one friend of mine has walked almost 30km since she downloaded the game last week on her quest to catch more Pokémon. I ventured out into the afternoon sun and walked the length of JBR. Yes, it was hot – but I wore light clothing and made sure I stopped for refreshments en route to keep hydrated and have a break from the heat. Many people in Dubai are getting out and about – it’s exercise, but it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Social inclusion

With ongoing debates that technology and social media make us less social, my experience has been the opposite with Pokémon GO. All of a sudden, a circle of close friends has invited in more Pokémon-playing people to widen that circle. It became the topic of conversation at several social situations over the weekend – so much so, we have set up a dedicated Facebook Messenger group to share hints and tips. We’ve also been sharing interesting news analysis on the phenomenon because we feel part of a huge social experiment. We are interested and engaged in how and why people are playing all around the world.

Commercialism (while good for business, not so good for my bank balance, it turns out)

Fun aside, what does Pokémon mean to brands and businesses? Well it looks like we will find out soon. Quite aside from the fact that I ended up spending [probably too much] money while visiting several Poke-Stops at the Mall of the Emirates, businesses are getting savvy to the commercial opportunity offered by Pokémon GO. The National reported that independent, Dubai-based gaming shop Geeky Lizard was quick to jump on the chance to bring in new customers. The owner set off ‘lures’ to attract Pokémon – which is of course followed by scores of eager catchers (potential customers).

I sense that this is merely the tip of the iceberg – businesses and brands of all sizes are going to be keen to capitalise on such a huge, potential captive audience. We should expect to see news coming out this week.

So there you have it: A take on Pokémon GO from myself and my friends here in Dubai, who look forward to levelling up and evolving into even greater Pokémon Hunters. After all – gotta catch ‘em all…