Friday, July 15, 2016

And in the distance, Totoro on a tower...

Poised to walk. In the distance, a Totoro-like being on a tower (Totoro isn't a Pokémon creature really, but a Miyazaki creature, but I'm more familiar with the menagerie of the latter than of the former.)
Broadcast news networks and the blogosphere buzzes with news of Pokémon Go, the new game that is an essentially free app for either Androids or iPhones. Clearly Pokémon Go is going boldly where almost no app has gone before. No app of any sort, much less a game app, has created so much buzz.

Traditionally, computer gaming anchors me, sedentary, tethered to mouse and keyboard as if they were ball and chain, in my office chair while the great outdoors provides only the ambient lighting level of my office. The space in which the game occurs is a virtual space modeled inside my computer and that I can see and hear only through my screen and speakers.

I have been, if not a good player of World of Warcraft, then a committed one. In my year with the black dog of depression, WoW provided not a physical world but a virtual world in which I moved about and slowly relearned the fundamentals of responsible living: there are chores that must be done daily. If I'm going to play, I've got to pay, but money can be had for work. Fulfilling quests earns money. A focused series of quests leads to a noteworthy achievement. My king needs my help repelling invaders as he expands the Empire of the Alliance by invading the rest of the world. In general, the Social Contract offers all sorts of options and opportunities. Once I earn gold, if I have a sense for business, I can invest it in the auction house and make it grow.

Such chores in virtual space can occupy one hundred percent of the real-world time not occupied by sleeping, eating, and bathroom breaks. And while this may help the damaged soul reconstruct a life and regain some modicum of mental health, it isn't good at all for physical health. Over the year in which I regained my integral soul I gained one hundred pounds.

Then I read about Ingress, which is a game that sits on top of Google Maps and that uses your phone's GPS data to navigate as you move through the game space, which corresponds to the real world. The premise of Ingress is simple: scattered through the real world are portals through which an alien energy leaks into my world. Portals in the world tend to be works of public art or public building. The naked eye sees only the art or building. To see the portal or to whom it belongs or the power (or danger) tied up in it requires a sensor, but fortunately I can download a sensor as an app on my phone.

There are two teams of players. One team thinks the alien energy will spawn evolutionary forward leaps for the human race. The other team believes the alien energy is evil. In either case, players seek out portals, strip away protection installed by the opposing team, and subjugate the portals to their team. The catch is that the portal will be shooting at me with consequences like temporarily disabling my sensor, and it's possible to lose all my power before I finish the take-over.

Snorlax (l.) and Totoro. Though hailing from distinct studios, they
are both endomorphs that could easily be mistaken for each other.
When I began seeing the buzz about Pokémon Go, I realized that here was another game using the real world as its game space. Curious to see what all the fuss is about, I downloaded Pokémon Go, and sure enough it's from Niantic, the same company that created Ingress. (Ninantic was a corporate aspect of Google until the company split itself into pieces.) The new game stands not only on Google Maps as Ingress does, but it also employs your camera to let you see a Pokémon character standing in front of you and waiting to be caught. This is exciting stuff because, no matter how elementary, it is augmented reality—what I have been calling hybrid reality, virtual reality superimposed upon the real world. I talked about my vision of a society living in augmented reality back on 29 June 2016, and I'm excited by this leap in that direction, an affirmation of my prediction, and amused by the form it has taken. Ready or not, we are speeding toward a time where many public spaces will be rendered in augmented reality.

I'm not yet regressing to the point that I'm getting excited about cartoon characters, though the idea of a game that gets me outside and walking around, no matter how infantile it might be, seems like a good idea. Yet these days it isn't World of Warcraft that keeps me busy but a daily blog and podcast. I watch barely enough television to have something to talk about in the podcast. I keep telling myself that I'll get good at this and dash off the blog in an hour and the podcast in another hour, but, if anything, like luggage that seemed light when I packed but that has grown heavy with the mileage and the repetition, they're getting heavier to carry on this eighty-third daily blog.

Does anyone besides me see a duck's head in this accidental assemblage of plastic bags?