politics and culture — August 15, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Is Pokemon Go Taking Us All To Hell?


This summer Pokemon Go has been all the rage, and it’s brought Augmented Reality into the mainstream.

Pokemon Go has its celebrants and its detractors, but no matter on what side of the issue you stand, Augmented Reality is here to stay, and it’s sure to change, quite literally, how we see the world and operate within it.

In HyperReality, visionary designer and filmmaker Keiichi Matsuda presents us with a brief glimpse into a world, possibly not too far off, where Augmented Reality is ubiquitous.

Check it out in the video above.

A Classic Story Set In A Dystopian Future

Despite its futuristic content, HyperReality is assembled in classic three-act structure.

In Act One we meet our hero, Juliana Restrepo, a woman with “no friends” and “no achievement” who had studied to be a teacher but now does the grocery shopping for 1-percenters in order to make ends meet.

Hers is a grim life submerged within a kinetic world of colorful augmented-reality ads, games and inspiration gurus.

We meet her in the back of a bus as she’s on her way to a supermarket in downtown Medellin. She wants to “start her life again,” but is inhibited by the fear of losing her “loyalty points.”

In Act Two Julianna is in the supermarket, where her problems deepen. Her biometrically-determined cyber account is under attack and the augmented reality it provides goes haywire. Though irritated and fatigued by the whole scene, Julia wants to return to the status quo, not least of all in order to protect those all-important loyalty points.

She’s informed by a cheery augmented-reality customer support rep that her account can indeed be restarted (with no points lost!). All she needs to do is “follow the blue line to the nearest service centre to confirm your biometric identity.”

This sets the turning point of Act III in which Juliana, now back on the street, is physically attacked. Her cyber identity goes into automatic reboot and, to her dismay, her beloved loyalty points are lost.

The story ends with her crossing the street to begin her life anew, this time in what appears be an equally bizarre augmented world.

In short, Julia’s is a story of a woman who wants to escape her situation and succeeds. It can be seen as a tale of rebirth and redemption. But at the end we’re left wondering whether she’s really getting a fresh start or simply replacing one flavor of her bleak, hellish existence with another.

A Story That Takes Us Someplace

The best stories are those that take us somewhere. Not necessarily to new environments or epochs, but on an emotionally and intellectual journey that, hopefully, changes us.

HyperReality is a story that does both.

We enter a new, fantastical world. We follow Julia on her journey of escape and (in my view) recapture. But maybe best of all, we confront questions that may move our thinking beyond the commonplace.

Someplace Bad? Or Someplace Good?

Digital cheerleaders like Jeff Jarvis have complained that HyperReality is needlessly alarmist.

Perhaps. But the world Matsuda presents is not that improbable.

And it raises some important questions:

1) In our new digital world, what is real and what is not?

2) By extension, what is legitimate and what is not?

3) Does it even matter?

It may be easy to assume you wouldn’t want to live in Julia’s world. But what I found most remarkable in HyperReality is the moment in the supermarket when the Augmented Reality briefly shuts down (3:57).

What we were left with is, well, drab, lifeless, depressing. Is this “reality” actually superior to its augmented cousin?

Perhaps out in nature I wouldn’t want an augmented layer to interfere. But for many environments I occupy, some augmentation could be welcome.

Is Pokemon Go Taking Us To A Good Place?

Those who celebrate Pokemon Go tout its storytelling virtues. Through the app we go on a journey. For many who have been home-bound for years, sitting in front of their computers, they’re taken to a exotic place, i.e., outside,  or what some still call “the real world.”

Along the way they may meet other Pokemon Go players with whom they will interact face-to-face, another step into a new world, that of “real” human interaction.

So, for Pokemon Go boosters, Augmented Reality is a way into the real world rather than an escape from it.

HyperReality argues the opposite.

Guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the story unfolds.

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