Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pokemon Go Biodiversity

One of first things that I noticed about Pokemon Go was the "realistic" way in which the creatures that you found were like the species that predominate in a disturbed environment. If you live in a place that's mostly parking lots alternating with scrub, you're going to see generalist, opportunistic species, not highly coevolved specialists. And so it is with Pokemon Go. Wander around (in New England, anyways) and what you see is Pokemon rats, pigeons, sparrows, and weeds. Ok, Weedle is an insect larva, not a weed, but you get the idea.

Biologists have already started commenting on the Pokemon/biology fieldwork intersection and the #PokeBlitz hashtag, so hope is gamely being kept alive that this will interest people in real creatures. I think the results are going to be mixed. The game encourages a lot of stop-and-go walking in which you're looking down at your cellphone screen a lot, so you're less likely to notice anything unusual about your actual surroundings. On the other hand, it does get people outside more. I've seen people playing the game sitting inside in highly trafficked locations (when a lot of people have the app open in one place, there will be Pokemon) and you can catch Pokemon as a passenger in a car. But to hatch Pokemon eggs you have to walk (or bike) pretty significant distances: riding in a car won't do it.

Still, my son has already told me that it would be interesting if you could take pictures of real animals that you see and "capture" them as Pokemon-like virtual creatures. Even in the college town that I live in, there are actual charismatic megafauna around. (I generally see black bears once a year, hawks, and once a flock of five wild turkeys scratching their way through the woods. Even my yard has had rabbits, mice, and praying mantises living in it.) Pokemon's diminished biodiversity may be "realistic" in some sense, but I still wonder whether it's giving an impression that the biological world is in the end as limited in its variation as Pokemon is.

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