Augmented Reality Games Like Pokmon Go Need a Code of EthicsNow

The world is full of Pokmon now. This should not be cause for moral anxiety, but celebration. Contrary to a few handwringing editorials and Twitter hot takes, Pokmon Go is not a triumph of the normalization of violence, the apotheosis of cell-phone zombification, or even gamification run awry. Amid the neo-Luddite contrarianism, a shining truth rises above all the( Magi-) carping: Pokmon Go comes in peace. But it raises profound questions about ethics in this new overlaid world of augmented reality.



Katherine Cross( @Quinnae_Moon) is a Ph.D student in sociology analyzing the causes and structures of anti-social behavior in virtual worlds, and a Gamasutra columnist.

The success of thismobile game, with its echoes of Beatlemania, seems to have caught everyoneoff guard–not least the company that produced the game. The games developer, Niantic, has had to hurry-up to patch security flaws and a litany of glitches. With only a few dozen employees, the company is struggling to keep up with the fact that it runs the world’s most popular game.

Meanwhile, there are news reports that cannot be dismissed as ironically viral Luddism: Koffing appearing at the National Holocaust Museum, for instance, or women being sexually harassed as they play, or the risk posed to young black players in the US by trigger-happy police officers.

The suddenness of Pokmon Go s mass popularity signals that a technological revolution is upon us, and it is past day for an industry-wide situate of ethical standards for augmented reality.

The Emergence of Pokstalking

It is in the nature of videogames to conjure incalculable exhilaration from the simplest participations. The twitch of a joystick, the recoil of a plastic button, the vibration of a controller. Pokmon Go adds to that the joy of ensure a Goldeen pop up on your desk. Videogames, since their inception, have extended the physical dimensions of art, placing the “work” somewhere between the player’s mind and the screen reflecting their input. Today, augmented reality moves in a new direction, superimposing game matter onto the physical world, and depicting gameplay into it.

So far, it seems like the physical nature of Pokmon Go helps tamp down the harassment that might otherwise result if the game took place in a purely online space. Tech journalist Beth Winegarner observed that Niantics first AR effort, the sci-fi game Ingress , was surprisingly welcoming to women. One of her interviewees argued that the games relative friendliness stemmed from players being forced to see each other in the flesh. By existing in the same space and working toward a collaborative aim, it scuttled the litter talk impulse that manifests in many an online game.

Winegarner argues that this is because would-be abusers are robbed of the anonymity they might enjoy online. I’m not sure this is the entire explain; there are too many instances of people engaging in online harassment or toxicity even under their legal names. I think the Internet itself is dissociative, anonymous or not: We’re still socialized to watch online interaction as less real, which makes it harder for us to identify avatars or Twitter accounts as human beings. Augmented reality immediately circumvents that problem.

But problems remain, which by rights “shouldve been” the developers responsibility. Winegarner pertains the story of a female Ingress player stalked by a male rival. Of course this is a police matter, but Niantic made the environment and the competitive context in which that stalking passed. Developers of AR games must realize that using the physical world as a gaming space makes it possible for harassment to enter that world as well.

They mustbe prepared to discourage suchbehavior and punish players who engage in it. They also should take on the collective responsibility of educating law enforcement, so officers dont immediately laugh at someone who says she was stalked because of a videogame.

” Those that don’t take such issues severely and set endeavor behind enforcing their terms of service are basically saying that harassers and abusers have free rein to do what they like in-game ,” Winegarner says, biasing the software” in favour of bullies against the bullied .”

In Pursuit of Pokquality

A recent McClatchy report by Christopher Huffaker found that black neighborhoods and rural areas have fewer Pokmon Go places. This is a result of crowdsourcing. Pokmon Go s locations were derived from the locations Ingress players added to the game. If no oneplayed Ingress where you live, and no one from your neighborhood submitted locations during Pokmon Go s beta period, you have no Pokestops. But looking at the maps in Huffakers report, the digital redlining is unmistakable. Should Niantic step in?

Media critic Brendan Keogh thinks so. Writing in Australias Overland journal, he notes that for Pokmon Go , as with many other digital technologies, both the labour and responsibility have fallen onto the end user, leaving the corporate owned with nothing but the upkeep and the profits … Airbnb owns no properties, Uber owns no vehicles, Pokmon Go is just some markers on a map. The politics is someone else’s problem .”

In truth, the politics are presumed to be no ones problem, as if the virtuality of the medium renders any possible issues equally non-tactile. The world ismoving into an economy of virtual commodities-but the physical traces left by this virtuality are all too real. Someone mustbe responsible.

This is about more than simply pocket ogres. The world ismoving rapidly toward a future where AR will not just has become a gimmick in a fun mobile game, but where it will be the shingle hanging from every business and civic endeavor. Hold augmented-reality exercise regimens; AR test prep programs where children can investigate their neighborhoods with AR overlays on trees, fauna, and local monuments; AR policing where a persons ID–and criminal history–flashes before an officers eyes. Or just AR augmentation for every aspect of life, a better Google Glass in which overlays for everything from the temperature to the inventory of a local store unfold before your eyes.

Aprecedent establishing that developers have no persons responsible for inequality of access–whether its passively excluding black neighborhoods or poor rural regions, health risks posed to black youth and women, or the absence of access for people with disabilities–would allow these unfairness tobe repeated bycountless applications and games ad infinitum.

Society hasa chance to set new precedents and commit to industry-wide ethical standards now, when the biggest manifestation of AR is still a comparatively inconsequential videogame.

Imagine for a moment that a young Pokmon Go player is killed by police because he looked suspicious as he was looking for digital beasts. Would Niantic stand up and advocate publicly for the fallen player? That would define two examples worthy of enshrining as an industry best practice.

If you’re a game developer reading this, you might well asks: Why should I take the lead here? Consider this: Unavoidably, your work experience will build you a prime hiring nominee when a city wants an AR or VR app for an infrastructure project, or a hospital wants to develop VR tech for performing surgeries, or youre given a undertaking to develop AR apps for a major museum. As this technology moves well beyond the realm of games, you will be the person or persons with its expertise and skill to build that virtual future.

Peopleshould decide, here and now, what theywant it to look like.

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