Pokémon GO: A Gateway Drug to Nature Apps?

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“Do you think it’s too cold and windy for them?” I asked.  My husband shrugged and gave me a look that said, “you’re supposed to be the expert.”   I looked back down at the bright orange butterflies.  They bobbled in the wind on the tops of the milkweed flowers I had set them on and reminded me of little orange sails on schooners in a storm.  The little hooks

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The Monarch Butterflies at the museum are part of a Citizen Science project.

on their feet allowed them to keep a death grip during each gust.  We eventually moved them to a sheltered tree.

 

While Zane and I fussed over the Monarchs fresh from their chrysalises, Pokémon GO players walked by glued to their cell phones.  If you haven’t heard or noticed the droves of people walking around, Pokémon GO is an augmented reality game that requires players to walk to different geographic locations to play and collect Pokémon species.   The museum had become something of  a hotspot due to its proximity to stops, gyms, wifi, and electricity.  One of the players, a dad leading a small family on a Pokémon chase, rubbernecked at us and the butterflies.  He did not stop.

I’ve been playing Pokémon GO for a few days now and its similarity to citizen science apps is uncanny.  Yesterday I decided to look for Pokémon in the cemetery near my house and had little luck.  While I was there, however, I did a find a very real cottontail rabbit.  I closed my Pokémon game and opened iNaturalist.  I took a photo of the rabbit and added it to my observation list in (a pokedex for naturalists).  I switched back to Pokémon GO and went on hunting.  It’s hard not to see the similarities between apps that are used for

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Butterfree Pokemon.

finding and collecting observations, real scientific data, and Pokémon GO .  The big difference?  People are actually using Pokémon GO , while citizen science apps are generally only used by hobby naturalists, birders being the best example.

In fact, Pokémon GO is similar to birding in particular.  Groups of people mill about in spontaneously created “hot spots” and socialize.  “Has anyone seen a Jigglypuff yet?” can substitute for “Did you see the Long-eared Owl yet?”  Pokémon GO  players keep a pokedex and birders keep a life list. It shows me that, as humans, we have a love for
hunting and collecting things.   So far, we just haven’t been able to tap into that love to get people interested in nature on a large scale.  Can we ever use technology like the augmented reality in Pokémon GO to get people interested in the real monsters around them?

 

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