So in the span of about 24 hours I just moved through the following cycle of understanding regarding Pokemon GO:
- Pokemon GO is a thing (15 hours ago)
- Holy crap: like everyone is talking about Pokemon GO. A bunch of friends, random people in random places, and now social media (10 hours ago)
- Oh, wait, this is about to be massive (9.9 hours ago)
This piece is about why this type of game is about to be massive.
But first let me catch you up if you’re not aware of the phenomenon.
It’s an augmented-reality game, meaning when you use the app you’re both seeing real maps and real things in the real world, AND overlays of the fantasy world of the game you’re playing.
For Pokemon GO, you’re going around capturing these Pokemon characters. So the game (and AR games in general) have the following characteristics:
- They get you active. You need to cover a lot of ground if you want to be successful
- You often interact with others while playing, especially if you’re doing it at a high level. There are lots of forums, groups, and meetups around these types of games
- They make reality more fun
It’s the last one that has me all excited.
I think augmented reality games are fascinating because of the implications they’ll have on society.
In brief, I think society is stratifying into two main groups: we’ll call them Fortunates and Unfortunates. Fortunates are the people who are smart, lucky, went to college, have a special talent, were raised in good families, knew someone with influence, or had one or more of a thousand other advantages that allowed them to flourish.
They have good jobs, make good money, and have relatively stable relationships. They are the people who benefit from all the new technologies the most. Technology ecosystems. Better shopping experiences. Ride-sharing services. AirBnB.
These are all phenomenal for those who can afford to use them.
But most people can’t. Most people are the infrastructure for the Alphas. They’re the Unfortunates, and they clean the streets, they clean the hotel rooms, they wash the cars, they make the food, they serve the food, and they receive customer complaints for high-end services.
I don’t know the numbers here, but lets say that Fortunates are roughly 20% of the population, and Unfortunates are the other 80%. Maybe that’s 10/90. Maybe it’s 5/95. Maybe it’s 40/60. No idea. I’m making up both the groupings and the percentages.
The point here is that Fortunates like real life. For them, their regular lives are like a Pokemon GO game. They travel, meet friends, buy nice things, share that fun with all their other Fortunate friends, and then travel somewhere else.
For Unfortunates, however, the “regular” world mostly sucks—especially for the people closer to the bottom. It’s a lot of the same streets, the same town, and the same displays of things they can’t participate in.
They don’t travel much because it’s far too expensive. They don’t fly on airplanes much, if ever. They don’t go far away for vacations. They have been to very few foreign countries, if any. Their primary entertainment for the last decade has been television, movies, and Facebook. And for the geekier types, games.
Fantasy is an escape from a shitty world. And many Fortunates prefer that world to reality as well.
But for the Unfortunates, I think the allure of fantasy is even greater, and will continue to rise, along with the percentages of Betas relative to Fortunates.
So, more people. More Unfortunates. Fewer Fortunates. And increasingly deep and rich Augmented (and Virtual) reality.
The outcome seems clear to me: More and more people will spend great amounts of their free time moving through reality with a filter on it.
They’ll see the real world, but it won’t be the world where they can barely afford rent. It’ll be the world where they’re 4 stages away from getting their new power that will be massively respected by their peers.
It won’t be the world where their boss is talking about outsourcing their group (again). It’ll be the world where they’re the highest level Wizard in the 40 person meetup at this coffee shop downtown.
It’ll be a better world.
That’s what augmented-reality offers, not just to those who are struggling but to anyone. It offers a skin on reality. A filter to the world that makes it not suck as much.
We should expect two things as things progress:
- More people will need this filter, because the world will get harder for increasing percentages of the population
- The technology will improve rapidly to the point where people don’t mind the fact that reality sucks, since it’ll become a simple way to pay the subscription fees for their AR and VR games
I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing. It’s just what’s going to happen.
[ UPDATED 11.06.2016 for clarity and changed the names of the have and have-nots. ]
- AR/VR games will provide an alternative meaning structure for those who don’t receive a satisfactory one from real life
- This will largely appeal to those who have little education and little ability to purchase products and experiences
- In short, the Fortunates will get their meaning from the real world, while the Unfortunates will get it from fantasy worlds either separate from (VR) or overlaid upon (AR) the real world
- If you’re a regular reader you should already know that I don’t find the distinction between Alpha and Beta here to be a pleasant one. I see it as a problem to be overcome, not something to work towards. The bad news is that it doesn’t need anyone to work towards it; it’s happening on its own.
- On a related note, if you’re offended by the names and distinctions of Alpha and Beta, I propose to you that you are allowing yourself to be upset by the wrong things. It’s not the description of reality that should disturb you; it’s the fact that that reality exists. Let’s fix that.
- I like the names Fortunates and Unfortunates because they properly capture what I was attempting to describe. Alphas and Betas imply quality, when in fact this is 100% a matter of right place and right time. People don’t pick their genes or their surroundings, and those are what determine whether they’re a have or a have-not.