I will freely admit that having grown up in the 90s, I am an avid Pokemon player. I was completely taken in by Google’s April Fool’s prank in 2014 that suggested a pokemon angle within Google Maps. It’s likely that Niantic Labs, the Pokemon Go developer which was part of Google at the time, was trying to float the idea of an augmented reality (AR) pokemon game to see what the response would be before investing in its development. The result has been a game that has truly exploded in popularity across the globe. It’s phased rollout in countries across the world has caused both excitement and ire. After 2 weeks of waiting, it has finally been released in Canada, and with it, a variety of pros and cons that we should consider when interacting with our students.
What is Pokemon Go Anyway?
If you are unfamiliar with this game, here’s a little primer. You open the app, create a profile, and begin exploring your location in order to find pokemon to catch, and then train. Pokemon learn special moves that can be used in battle as you continue to level them up. To find them, your app uses your phone’s GPS to tell you what pokemon are nearby, but not their specific location. You have to wander about until you stumble upon them. You, as a trainer, walk around and can also check out “Poke Stops” every few metres at various landmarks to grab in-game items like pokeballs (used to catch pokemon), lures, pokemon eggs that can be hatched, and other useful things. There are also “Gyms” that trainers can find and claim by battling the previous champion’s pokemon. When you hold a gym you win in-game coins that can be used to purchase items and perks.
If you’re confused by the appeal, it boils down to virtual collecting. The entire game is designed around finding the rarest and most powerful pokemon possible.
The myriad of warnings to stay aware of your surroundings has been prompted by many examples of players putting themselves at risk to catch ever elusive pokemon. Trespassing, physical injury, robberies, and professional faux pas are just a few of the negative side effects we’ve seen since its widespread adoption. It’s highlighting systemic issues of oppression such as double standards that exist for racialized people who have been targeted in their communities for the aimless wandering that the game causes. While the game itself isn’t biased, it sure is putting a spotlight on issues of discrimination and prejudice that exist in our society. The physical movement that the gameplay requires has also alienated fans with disabilities. Lastly, there has been a lot of concern raised about the wealth of private information that the app collects from the smartphones of players—although Niantic has make some changes to their user agreement and data collection since initial reports were shared.
Before you jump on the bandwagon to demonize Pokemon Go, let’s recognize that it’s not all bad news. There are some unforeseen positive impacts that this app has had in the 2 weeks since it launched. Players have reported a plethora of physical and mental health benefits as the game has incentivized outdoor activity. In a digital age where we worry about an increasing level of personal disconnection, it’s bringing people together to socialize as they play side-by-side. Public transit systems are reporting higher ridership. And it’s benefited small business with higher levels of foot traffic. The app presents a lot of opportunities for savvy Higher Ed pros to engage with students in a different way. And possibly a way to connect with the 80% of students that we don’t typically interact with.
Here are 10 ways to engage students who play Pokemon Go:
1. Play it!
If you’re too busy judging the thousands of people who are playing this game, you’ll miss out on major opportunities to engage with students. Download the app and give it a go just to make sure you understand what it’s about. If you have a department brand, think about creating a profile and collecting under that banner. It will help connect you with students, and set the stage for possibilities with future updates such as trading pokemon and creating friend lists. Once trading is possible, you could even start offering pokemon as prizes or perks.
2. Invest in Lure Modules
For a pretty small cost, you can boost attendance at events, or simply get people in the door of your space by using lures. These cost about $1 and are active for 30 minutes. They have to be used at a Poke Stop, so try to find one near you and strategize about how you can promote your event or service at that location.
3. Set up charging stations.
While charging stations have always been an attractant for smartphone-wielding students, it’s even more enticing since this app will hyper beam your battery. Players flock to locations that offer charging ports and comfortable places to hang out while waiting. The beauty of this is that players will be looking for something to occupy their time while they wait for their phones to juice up. Why not make that something be your program?
4. Promote your local pokemon, especially RARE sightings!
Use your social media channels to share rare pokemon sightings and highlight the pokemon that are endemic to your location. You never know when or where pokemon will show up, but they often follow a pattern, so if you can show something rare appearing nearby, players will stop by repeatedly to see if there is a repeat.
5. Program for each team.
If you haven’t played it yet, you might be surprised to learn that early in the gameplay trainers are asked to ally themselves with one of three teams. Each one is associated with a “legendary bird” pokemon that were introduced in earlier traditional pokemon games. The teams are Valor, Instinct, and Mystic; each have their own associated values. Try offering perks to each team at various events or on different days.
6. Promote your gyms.
Winning gyms is a big bonus in the game that can make money for the trainer that they can spend in the game. When a trainer wins a pokemon battle at a gym, they can claim the gym on behalf of their team. If their team already holds the gym in question, a trainer can still battle, but it becomes a “friendly” battle that serves to build the gym’s prestige. It takes at least 30 minutes for players to battle enough to win a gym for their team which translates to a significant amount of time spent at that location. This translates to a lot of traffic if you are lucky enough to have a gym near you. Share the locations of nearby gyms and give kudos or perks to recent champions. You could even strategize with others to defend or win back your local gym and boost competition.
7. Scavenger hunt? Try a Pokehunt that starts and/or ends at your office!
How many scavenger hunts cross our campuses during the year? Update your scavenger hunt to engage trainers with your program. You can even increase the impact of the hunt by strategically using lures at various stops along the hunt. It can be a simple meet-up style event, or you can make it competitive and give out prizes for pokemon captures or in-game photos. Be creative!
8. Provide space for Pokemon trainers to connect, strategize, & socialize.
There is an important social element to Pokemon Go that shouldn’t be overlooked. Plan meet-ups or events where players can interact with each other in person. Offer training sessions hosted by experienced players. Tackle the positive and negative social issues that the game has highlighted and generate discussion. People are already paying attention to this brand, so use that momentum to connect with your students, and help them connect with each other.
9. Host Pokemon contests.
Highest stats, cutest, fiercest, best name…the possibilities are endless. Give students a chance to show off the best of their collections.
10. Stay abreast of future possibilities: trading, friends, and sponsorship.
Make no mistake, there are already strategies in place to provide continual engagement once this first wave of excitement has passed. Stay on top of updates so you can be strategic with your outreach. Future possibilities are likely to include the ability to trade Pokemon, create lists of friends, and probably options to pay for branding of Poke Stops, Gyms, and avatar clothing.
These are just some ideas on how to use Pokemon Go as an engagement tool on campus. If you’re looking for more, a quick Google search will double-slap you with hits (but this is one of my favourites, specific for engaging a campus). Just like Pokemon raising, or SA programming, there’s no one way to engage. I’d love to hear from you: how are you engaging students with Pokemon Go on your campus? Let me know in the comments, or Tweet me @LesleyDSz.