Pokemon Go, a mobile game released last week that combines the nostalgia of the ’90s TV show with the cutting edge technology of augmented reality, was developed by a UC Berkeley graduate.
John Hanke, the developer of Pokemon Go, is a graduate of the Haas School of Business and a former employee of Google. Hanke developed a company called Keyhole, which was subsequently acquired by Google to become Google Maps, and then he began a company called Niantic Labs where he developed Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go is not the first foray into augmented reality games for Niantic Labs or John Hanke. It is, however, the most popular game of this type, generating upwards of 15 million downloads and a lot of attention on social media.
According to Dean of the College of Engineering Shankar Sastry, augmented reality is a technology that has been around for a while — the technology used in Pokemon Go had already existed for 10 years before the production of the game.
“Pokemon Go is an example of an augmented reality game that has captured the imagination of people across the world,” Sastry said.
But augmented reality has uses that go far beyond entertainment, Sastry noted. For example, the technology can be used to provide immediate information as a person is driving or performing surgery through being able to constantly monitor the world around you.
The Center for Augmented Cognition at UC Berkeley focuses on applications extending beyond the realm of entertainment, with its research extending into areas such as human collaboration with drones.
“Augmented reality is an enabler for a human being to project her cognitive capabilities a lot further,” Sastry said. “It gives you a chance to be much more involved with the world.”
In addition to the feelings of nostalgia it elicits among users, the use of augmented reality in Pokemon Go is one of the main attractors to the game, according to Richard Koci Hernandez, an assistant professor of new media at the School of Journalism and at the Center for Augmented Cognition at UC Berkeley. Hernandez said it is successful because it helps to popularize augmented reality by making it more accessible and providing a social gaming platform to users.
“The interesting thing about Pokemon Go is it’s one of the first gaming platforms to incorporate a very large social platform,” Hernandez said. “It’s not just a game that you play on your phone on your couch, it also uses social media, and then it introduced the new secret sauce, augmented reality.”
The game has been very popular among UC Berkeley students as well. Timothy Guan, a campus senior, said he has made several friends while playing the game on the UC Berkeley campus.
“It has a unique ability to unite and divide its users,” Guan said. “There has also been criticism of the game because it forces players to walk around on their phones, which some say favors people of ethnic groups who can do that without being suspected of subversive or antisocial behavior.”