The phenomenal success of Pokémon Go could become a model for conservation by encouraging people to seek out real life animals and birds instead of make-believe ones. The game, which reached 500 million downloads within two months of its release, sees players search for virtual creatures in real-world environments.
However, scientists now believe the game could be a way of encouraging people to explore their own areas, and encourage visitors to national parks, zoos and wilderness areas. The paper published by researchers from Oxford and Cambridge, a world conservation centre and University college London said Pokémon Go had the hallmarks of “an incredibly successful citizen science project” as much as it did a smartphone game.
John Mittermeier, one of the authors, said: “There is a widespread belief that interest in natural history is waning and that people are less interested in spending time outside and exploring the natural world. “Pokémon Go is only one step removed from natural history activities like bird watching or insect collecting. Pokémon exist as ‘real’ creatures that can be spotted and collected, and the game itself has been getting people outdoors. What’s going on here, and can we as conservationists take advantage of it?”
The researchers also said the game was responsible for major behaviour changes in people, entirely new daily routines, and making people spend much more time out and about. While hunting for imaginary creatures, the game has already inspired the hashtag #Pokeblitz where people came across real-life creatures like birds, wildlife, or insects that they photographed and wanted to identify.
The report said the game had significant lessons for conservationists and those looking to get more people to visit parks, natural sights, and wilderness areas. They suggested the development of new augmented reality games could focus on conservation to encourage locals and travellers alike to search out real species. These augmented reality games could also work in zoos and protected areas to provide visitors with information about different habitats and the wildlife they were seeing there. Another of the report’s authors Leejiah Dorward suggested that Pokémon Go might be tapping into what is known as “biophilia”.
This is the theory that people have an inbuilt affinity with nature and a desire to explore the natural world, an idea that will come as little surprise to most of us with wanderlust.