First Click: Using VR to escape Pokémon Go

July 13th, 2016

Virtual reality is by its very nature escapism. A firm-fitting headset and earphones not only serve as a conduit to another world but also deprive your senses from fully keeping track of this one. And that’s exactly what I needed today: I needed VR to get away from the augmented reality of Pokémon Go.

So much has already been written about Niantic and Nintendo’s new game — a social phenomenon that’s augmented reality in more ways than just using the camera while trying to catch pokémon. In my own experiences, in less than a week from launch, I’ve gone on more walks (to catch pokémon), I’ve found new bars and restaurants (because my favorite ones weren’t within range of pokéstops), and I even went to church (but only just outside and only because someone dropped a pokémon-attracting lure). Its ability to make people more active and social is undeniable, but this “portal to a magic world” has also become addicting. In the time it took me to write this, for example, I’ve caught two zubats, a rattata, and a pidgeotto.

Pokémon Go is something of a social paradox: it both encourages people to talk to one another in real life while also demanding that they keep one eye on their phones at all times. And while I love both elements (for now, at least) I needed a moment away. And that’s where VR came in. A half hour in an Oculus Rift meant a half hour where I was unable to multitask or jump between various stimuli. I couldn’t check for weedles or doduos even if I wanted to. Instead, I spent time floating through a prehistoric sea and faux-hacking through hexagons. Neither game was as satisfying as catching a rare Jigglypuff, but it was nice to be forced to focus on one thing.

Although AR has yet to take off in any real capacity — Google Glass fizzled and Microsoft HoloLens is only recently making its way to developers — Pokémon Go is an interesting example of what AR could do to, well, augment our perspectives, for better and for worse. And in doing so, in adding more stimuli to our already sensory-overloaded lives, it’s made a pretty damn good case for technologies like VR that emphasize singularly focused moments. An escape not just from reality but from all the things we’ve managed to layer onto that reality. Even if Pokémon Go’s enthusiasm fades far below the public conscious, it’s still a sign of what’s to come. And seriously, just imagine what this week would be like if the game existed entirely in smart eyewear.

Anyway, now back to catching zubats. I am utterly sick of catching zubats, but it’s the only pokémon near me tonight.

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