PokemonGO and augmented or decreased education?

PokemonGO , the game based on despicable manga monsters from a few years ago, is definitely the talk of the town during this period. And rightly so: I saw unsuspected graduates falling prey to their most unabashed nerd instincts, getting the app weeks before its release in Italy, to chase Pikachu and friends everywhere, spotting them trough the screens of their smartphones.

I think Pokemon suck, I have to confess.

I never could stand neither the manga, nor the anime series which was famous in Italy several decades ago, nor the underlying concept: capturing alien animals to make them fight each other… really?!?

However as the popularity of the app was growing more and more, even before its release, I started asking myself some questions. What’s working so good, attracting so much, in this game?

not that debate again!…

More or less at the same time, we had the starting lamentation of the ones against.

Let me say, the operation is not without dubious aspects; dissemination of pokemon and their meeting-points PokeStop was built from world heritage of portals from the previous augmented reality game Ingress, again done by Niantic, killing the battery in my first smartphone few years ago, but then in some countries you can already see not-hidden mechanisms trying to pilot the chase in certain commercial places, fast food etc. (where McDonald’s is obviously is front row), and especially, depending on Ingress mechanisms and the creation of its portals, this dissemination involved in a very strategic way also many sensitive places, starting from Auschwitz, to many museums around the world, including the Uffizi – as we were told with surprising and unexpected lightness by the official account of the Italian Ministry of cultural heritage:

The debate could be very interesting: What right has a private company to “invade” and use public space (or similar) with his game, what right has the public space, if it is such (and how and to what extent it is?) to refuse this invasion, and most of all, which halfway meeting-points can and should be found to settle the question…

Instead: no way, our media condemned us to stand still at Funari and Aboccaperta – the old (terrible) Italian talk show which used to divide the audience in: for it or against it.

I have my own ideas on PokemonGo, if you ask me, I also tweeted them a few days ago:

I’m wondering also what will be the gamification experts’ opinion, starting from Jane McGonigal, that in her fundamental book on the topic wrote, among the many, about a game invented by her, that was meant to be played in cemeteries. Her contribution to the debate is waited with great interest here, while I cannot stop regretting that the level is quite low meanwhile; as the very good Mantellini stated,

… and most of these commentators is on “Oh My!” level (which is the semi-official standard of Italian information…) where a lot of interesting things could be discussed instead.

You could use PokemonGo as a starting point for many discussions:

For example, you could talk about what I saw the other night while driving home, children and parents hanging around together on bikes to catch the pokemons in their neighborhood; or what I was told by a friend who works at the city of Ferrara youth information office, who got very young users in her office, and they never entered before, but while playing pokemonGo they discovered a venue and a service dedicated to them, who no one else yet had showed them until that moment; you might see in this game a practice able to (finally) support other previous and interesting uses of public space crossed with digital media, as the very interesting Urban Experience by Carlo Infante in Rome, or in my 2c, what I proposed in my international training course Dig-it Up!; you may notice the experiment of the newspaper La Repubblica, that launched a collective pokemonGo play in Piazza del Popolo in Rome and covered it live on Facebook, getting that several dozen hunters were followed by a million viewers, generating 9000 comments on the subject etc.; you could discuss how this might simply be the last example of a string of “narrative games” that has decades of history, and which is questioning or should be questioning who is actually working with stories, starting from booksellers and librarians (by the way, the linked article starts with a great reconstruction of this narrative games strand to which I referred).

Working with learning, youth and technology, first of all I would feel the need to discuss what we have to learn from a game like this; I guess, you should learn how to build your own educational and recreational activities outdoors (and out-school), to motivate youth groups to collect information, to discover places, to work as a team, etc. – and it seems to me much stuff, with no huge technical difficulties (just a few qr codes, some smartphones connected to the internet, some whatsapp or twitter contact who send out missions… during Dig-it Up! we do it this way 😉 ) .

The reaction of (some) teachers

Today in a Facebook group dedicated to innovative teaching and in particular to the methodology of flipped classroom, a curious young teacher shared some further contribution to the discussion: the Director of the museums of Turin, in line with her Minister, calls to at least let yourself be questioned from this new game, making it match with the museum works.

And the reaction was disarming.

Here is a selection of comments – the best ones – and remember that these lines are expressed by teachers, possibly the ones who are more inclined to innovation and new practices, being members of a group like the one we said…

These are means of distraction and destruction of mass intellect.


It’ s absurd to use this medium to teach….anything goes but this really not!

I wouldn’t want my daughter having a science teacher as (…name of poor teacher who posted the link)

Compare games to reading is a stretch. Avid readers can’t compare to passive video gamers, usually the comparison in terms of intelligence is to the detriment of the latters.

I’m ok with all scientific documentation or medium- and long-term experiments proving an improvement of learning and development of critical thinking. Newspaper articles, written by I don’t know who, and especially those fed by the Market interest me much less. Thank you and good evening.

In a while I’ ll have to insert some critters in maths book to catch my kids’ attention. To Mrs. Asproni (the interviewed Director of museums in Turin) I would suggest that perhaps we should not pander to some stupid and also dangerous fads. We are exaggerating.

The last comment (by the way, posted by an especially vicious teacher, author of a whole series of rants) is the one on which I would like to make a quick stop on. To answer: Yes! Sure! Why not? How much in need are science and maths to be made more funny, interesting, appealing!!!


The other question which arises constantly in the comments, is the Market obsession. I will not write another list to not be boring, but there are tons.

PokemonGo is basically an evil monster that resells the brains of kids to the Market.

While textbooks adopted in school are obviously produced by philanthropic organizations (starting with De Agostini, large shareholder of the biggest Italian gambling holdings…), the outrageous practice of changing their pagination every couple of years without substantially modifying the contents, with the only purpose to kill the exchange of used copies, is something praiseworthy, and the Italian school all together notoriously travels in full sails toward the Sun of Future, and so on. And all this hatred on a game that epitomizes the power of control of the Market, have you noticed, is expressed as a post in a Facebook group, inside a private online service that embodies the very spirit of what is capitalism nowadays.

Unfortunately in a couple of occasions I failed to keep my hand in this debate about PokemonGo, and I wrote a few lines. I deleted four or five more, as I didn’t want to trigger the ruckus, although some people would have deserved it. So I put here my disdain, and my total disappointment.

These, you know, are the good ones.
Who still want to stay in a group discussing how to do their job better, etcetera.

And I meet tons and tons of teachers like them, in my work.

I really don’t know how to do. The last word, here as in my comments today, should be this:

Think of the drivers of horse coaches, being surpassed by the first automobile car.
Try to look at this debate in that perspective.

I have nothing more to add.

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