New research into the popular smartphone game Pokemon Go has shed light on unexpected effects the game has on real-life wildlife and conservation efforts. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, University College London, the University of Oxford and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre believe that the game may help spark a reinterest in nature within the general public.
Pokemon Go allows users to use their cellphones to explore an augmented reality in which creatures called pokemon roam and reveal themselves for users to capture. Similar to real animals, the pokemon in the augmented reality can be as rare as a panda or as common as a squirrel.
Catching rarer pokemon requires players to travel vast distances, often leading players into areas they do not regularly walk in, such as forests, parks and a variety of other natural habitats.
In these areas, players have the opportunity to stumble upon real-life animals as they chase virtual ones. Sometimes players take photos of the real animals they find as they hunt pokemon, subsequently posting them to social media platforms like Twitter in hopes that someone could identify the species for them.
Pokemon Go might be teaching users about more than just pokemon, researchers posit. Users who want to be successful at capturing all the pokemon in the augmented world must explore new environments and sometimes even new continents in the real world.
Where a certain type of pokemon reveals itself inadvertently teaches users about natural habitats of species. For example, fish pokemon like will not show up in the middle of the desert. The researchers asserted that this type of exploration embodies the basics of natural history concepts: observation and exploring.
Some nature and conservation organizations are even trying to utilize Pokemon Go for hunts where players can contribute to real-world taxonomy. All they need to do is take a photo and identify the species of an animal they find while playing Pokemon Go.
Though researchers stressed their excitement about the “citizen science initiative” Pokemon Go is mimicking, they also expressed concerns about the game’s possible negative impact on conservation. Though the game is popularly played in urban areas, players making excursions into deeper wilderness searching for rare pokemon might erode the habitat of real wildlife.
Another draw of the game is the battles one can have with his or her friends using captured pokemon, a fear that researchers speculate could promote the idea of catching real animals and making them fight against one another.
However, researchers were optimistic about the prospects of Pokemon Go’s impact on conservation. If players can get excited about colorful and well-designed fictional creatures, perhaps future games, similar to Pokemon Go, will rise into popularity without as many drawbacks.