Get an (augmented) reality check with The Last Jedi and Pokémon Go
Today fans will flock in droves to more than 20,000 stores in more than 30 countries to scan a display and collect virtual Star Wars characters. It’s an augmented reality (AR) scavenger hunt called Find the Force, a part of Force Friday II, a promotional push by The Walt Disney Studios to introduce merchandise for The Last Jedi, the next, highly anticipated chapter in the Star Wars saga, which will be released in the US on December 15.
If you think it sounds a lot like last year’s craze Pokémon Go, you’re right… with some key differences. Pokémon Go is layered over maps and encourages players to wander, while Find the Force is about driving people to physical places to buy toys. But it’s all AR, and both games demonstrate that the real world and the screen can merge to create our reality.
Ericsson ConsumerLab report on Merged Reality
Find the Force is more obviously commercial than Pokemon Go, though I’m well aware that the makers of Pokémon Go are making good use of all the data generated by players. The scope of Disney’s game might be more limited, but it’s a smart way to use the digital world to drive store traffic in the real world: an increasingly hard task.
Looking back on the future of AR
I’ve been waiting six years for “merged reality”. Back in 2011, I interviewed Mike Liebhold of the Institute for the Future for a cover story for Ericsson Business Review. Liebhold is a visionary who talked to me at length about connected contact lenses and sketched a world in which we would all get instant history, data, stories, reviews and alerts wherever we looked. His vision was of a world where we’d turn the AR on and off, not constantly having data intruding on our vision..
Liebhold waxed poetic about the richness of experience that could come from overlaying data on the real world:
“Dynamic views are what I’m interested in,” he said. “I don’t want to take out my phone and see restaurant reviews. I want to see historical richness. I want to see people playing games in public spaces. I want to see serendipity in art.”
How Pokémon Go changed AR forever
To be honest, I was skeptical. I didn’t doubt that his vision was right or that people would love it. No, I trusted both those things completely. I just wasn’t convinced that this was for me.
Then came Pokémon Go.
My son is the main player in the family, and we restrict his playing time on our phone. But as he has played in both California and Sweden, in big cities and in forests, we’ve found hidden plaques and sculptures, and noticed the odd way objects are sometimes distributed within the game. Some city streets are barren of both Pokémon and the PokéStops where you collect things, while there are marked forest trails teeming with Pokémon activity.
In a fantastic essay in BOOM California, Bryan B. Rasmussen writes about encountering Pokémon Go players while he – a naturalist – is hunting butterflies in the city of Los Angeles. Rasmussen looks into how the prejudices of the real world carry into Pokémon Go – how playing it is shaped by race, class and geography. He also explores how our very relationship with “nature” and other outside spaces is shaped in the same way. Now that the digital is overlayed on the real, what comes next?
How AR blends the digital with the real
This has been highlighted recently in a series of live events to mark the game’s one-year anniversary. The first ones were pretty disastrous (and highlighted the need for the kind of network coverage we’ll get with, say, 5G), though a stadium-sized event in Japan went off nicely. The game, which famously doesn’t allow for player interaction, also changed the way people fight at local “gyms”, giving them a chance to work together.
In my interview with Liebhold, he foresaw that gaming would be the first hot use case for AR. But in general, I assumed he was talking about AR in the more techno-utopian sense: a digital vision I wasn’t quite ready to accept. But now I think this might have been a lack of imagination on my part. I’ve never been a gamer, so why would I want an AR game? But in the case of Pokémon Go, AR is exposing information about the real world through gaps in and friction with the information given to us by the game designers or even the limits of crowd-sourced information.
And this is what is attractive to me. We’re not escaping the world and its messiness with the AR of Pokémon Go. Instead we’re able to think about and interact with it in a new way – hopefully a way that can provoke discussion and change.
Explore merged reality with Ericsson ConsumerLab
Gaming is really just the beginning of an AR revolution. Ericsson ConsumerLab explored our move towards “merged reality” in a recent report. Check it out to see how both augmented and virtual reality will play a key role in both industry and our everyday lives.