Investigating Pokemon Go in Central Park

After its launch, “Pokémon Go” swept the nation in popularity as millions of people broke their everyday routine to go outside in search of these mythical digital creatures. Host, Hari Sreenivasan recently went out into the field with Mark Skwarek, director of New York University’s mobile augmented reality lab, to experience visual reality first-hand.


After its launch, Pokémon GO swept the nation in popularity as millions of people broke their everyday routine to go outside in search of these mythical, digital Pokémon creatures.

The game also put the spotlight on augmented reality -- technology that adds virtual elements into our physical realm.

I recently went in the field, via Facebook Live, with Mark Skwarek, director of New York University's Mobile Augmented Reality Lab to try this game firsthand.

Here's a look.

Right now, we're in Central Park, and we're going to sort of discover the world of Pokémon.

I am a total novice.

Mark Skwarek, you work at the Augmented Reality Lab at N.Y.U.

I do.

They have a whole lab just to study augmented reality, and even in the mobile space, so he's been thinking about this for a long time.

Mark, why did Pokémon stick?

Um, so first would be the branding.

Pokémon brand, the millenials coming in, they have a little bit of extra cash, and smartphone devices are capable of doing it.


So, that would be probably the biggest reason.

Second reason it would be really great would be the game play that Niantic developed.

They actually have a fun game to play.

Here's this little blue thing, so I'm supposed to just, what, toss it over?

I missed.

That's not good.

Little to the left.

How about that?

Direct hit. Success.

What do these things mean?

The Pokémon caught 100XP, new Pokémon 500XP total.

What does that mean?

What are the points?

Point at the top would be to level this creature up so I can make him more powerful.

The second set was your actual user level.

So, right now, you're starting off at a level 1.


Like, I'm at a level 19 right now, so, you've just begun the game.

[ Laughs ]

We're actually right next to a PokéStop.

Right there.

Somewhere over here.

So, you have -- basically, you're looking at a Google Map, and Hari sees himself on the Google Map.

This is his avatar.

And this would be an example of a mixed reality.

I can see a representation of myself overlaying, uh, basically, a real world location.

So, this is -- this map is actually quite accurate.

Now, you're going to flick it from side to side --

Oh, look, that -- now I can see.

In about five minutes, you can come back to it and it'll collect more resources.

Just a reminder.

If you're just joining us, it's about 11:40 Eastern Time.

I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

And this is Mark Skwarek.

We are going on my first-ever PokéWalk in Central Park, and we're doing this live on Facebook, so we're also taking your questions.

I was just handed a phone with a couple of these.

'If you were a Pokémon creature, what would you be?'

[ Laughter ] I have no idea what that would be?




That's a name, that's a word?

Pound for pound, they're pretty -- they're pretty strong, I guess.


'What happened with the crazy crowds hunting Pokémon in Central Park a few weeks ago?'

Um, there's still some crowds around here, so if people are actually interested in that, you come out on like a Saturday or Saturday night, and you can find larger groups of people.

The -- What they're talking about, if anybody in the audience wants to Google 'Central Park Pokémon.'


Do a Google image search, you'll have about 500 people are running -- literally about 500 people start running in that direction.

People are getting out of their cars --

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I saw that. That was crazy.

And it's -- That was a moment in history.

[ Laughs ]

It's really a -- 'cause they're chasing after something that technically isn't --

Like, there.

Some people might not see it as being there.

It is located there by G-- So, information located at a very specific location.

'Can you actually catch 'em all?

In other words, can you find every type of Pokémon here in New York City?'

Technically speaking, you can if you were sort of cheating.

They do -- They locate different Pokémon at different geographic locations.

There are certain Pokémon you can only get in the U.S.

There are certain Pokémon you can only get in other different countries.

What people can do is you can sort of fake your GPS location, and it would think that I'm actually in Japan and then the Pokémon could appear.

But somebody has caught them all.

More than one person has already caught all the Pokémon.


Hey. How's it going?

My name's Hari.

John. Nice to meet you.

This is Mark Skwarek.

Hey, Mark.

Nice to meet you.

So, you are playing Central Park Pokémon right now?

I am playing Central Park Pokémon right now, yes.


I'm from North Carolina, so I'm here on vacation.

I heard Central Park's kind of a hotspot for Pokémon, and it's just a beautiful day to walk around so...

Okay, good.

So, what level are you on this thing?

I am level 25.


Mark is impressed.

[ Laughs ]

How many hours a day or week are you playing this game?

My roommates and I, we'll go out downtown like after work and maybe play for like an hour-and-a-half or so.

What I'm more concerned about is the people that just do this by themselves, and I'm like, are they going into this augmented world more so than being immersed in this real one?

Sure, I think that's a super-valid concern.

My experience playing it hadn't been like that so much, but it's -- you know, I've interacted with other people playing when I go out.

It's been more of a social thing than, you know, just me by myself on my phone thing.


Thank you very much for spending some of your day with us.

Yeah. Sure thing.

All right.

Great meeting you.


Hey, uh, we've got another young man.


Hi, how are you?

I'm Hari. What's your name?


Matthew, where are you from?

I'm from Dallas, Texas.

Have you heard about these Pokémon things that are inside Central Park?

Yes, sir.

My God, I feel so old when you call me 'sir.'

So, were you collecting any of these things?

Uh, no, I wasn't playing the game right now.

We were just looking for the softball fields.

But I was thinking about it, considering that there's so many PokéStops around.

I'm totally the old guy here, but is this cool for people your age to be playing this right now?

Oh, yeah, totally.

What's so interesting about it for you?

Well, it's just that Pokémon, when it first came out, it was very exciting and it -- it just kind of died down.

And now that they're able to bring it back in a new fashion and with new technology, so you don't have to keep up with the cards and stuff like that.

And I still have cards and I still have the total playing deck and...

You do? Okay.

Thank you.

Have a great time at the softball fields.

You, too. Thank you.

Who knew?

All right, so I'm going to tap this.

This is a PokéStop.

Going to spin this wheel of fortune, and one, two, three.

I've just racked up three more of these little red Poké balls.

All right, I got to find one of things.

Let's -- let's find a --

A creature.

Let's find a creature, whatever that means.

And let's -- Is it really, really far?

There should be one right in front of us.

Um, they've got one...


I've got one right here.

You're going to try to --

You've got a bunch of --

Whoa, whoa, whoa!

What is that? Wow. Okay.

There's a whole bunch of 'em around here.

All right, so we were standing next to a little, whatever that was, Paras.

Are you guys seeing what we were seeing?

Was there a Pokémon right there?

There was?

And you caught it?

Hi. What's your name?


Carlton. Nice to --



Nice to meet you guys.

So, are you playing Pokémon right now?


[ Laughter ]

Is that how he usually sounds when he's playing this game?



Are you ever concerned about Dalton kind of walking off, maybe farther than what you would be comfortable with in your neighborhood, chasing these things?

Actually, we do this as a family.

Do you like it?

It's fun.

What do you like about it?

I like the fact that families can do it together.

They're out now, instead of sitting at home playing video games, or parents on their phones on Facebook.

Now, it's a family event, where you can all playing with your children, walk around, get exercise, as well as interact with your kids.

Hey, what about the data?

I'm fine with his parents knowing where Dalton's going, but technology, that information sits on a server somewhere that's owned by a company that can sell it to a third party, et cetera, et cetera.

Yeah, the way that I would play Pokémon GO would be, if you're not going to go there in real life, or you wouldn't be comfortable with like your friends or other people in real life knowing that you're going to this place, you probably shouldn't do it with Pokémon GO.

Real world, how you would approach the real world to your game play.

And it seems that what these guys are doing is a smart move.

Play with your kid.

I think this is one of the best ways to kind of do it.

This is really great.

Well, thank you, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

Yes. Thank you very much.

It was good to meet you guys.

Thank you.

Take care.

Have fun.

Good luck hunting.

This is just the first game that's kind of made a splash.


You're expecting bigger things.


One of the best things about Pokémon GO, and we're sort of -- we're kind of touching on it, in my grad class, one of the assignments was, we had to augment the bus between Pratt University and N.Y.U.

And the assignment -- one of the assignments was to try to bring people together.

Like, to get someone on the bus who I've never met before, strike up a conversation, or just get people kind of communicating.

It really could foster this kind of this community, taking people out of the houses.

We're hearing it on a number of these different comments.

Like, it's getting them to come out the houses, um, and if it could actually start bringing people together, I think this could be really amazing.

Mark Skwarek from N.Y.U., thank you very much for your time today.

My name's Hari Hari Sreenivasan and I work for PBS on 'SciTech Now' and 'NewsHour' 'NewsHour Weekend.'

Thanks so much for watching.