The wildly popular Pokémon Go game has roused millennials into a nostalgic virtual reality that overlaps with the real world, allowing people to traverse cities and meet real-life fellow gamers along the way. Yet the game has received its share of criticism.
Chief among them is that the game’s Pokestops and gyms — virtual places in the game that exist in real locations — are found primarily in predominantly white neighborhoods across the country. Critics argue that this prevents some people from participating in Pokémon Go and that communities lose the benefits that could come with diverse groups of people interacting with one another while playing the game.
Pokémon Go has not publicly released its geographic data, but researchers were able to estimate the number of Pokestops and gyms by using maps of “portals” from Ingress — a game that was made by Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go. The game was based on the same geographic data as Ingress.
So how does this play out in Washington? The Urban Institute mapped where Ingress portals are located in the city and found that, yes, they are concentrated in predominately white neighborhoods. The study concluded that the distribution of gyms and stops in the game means that not everyone — even everyone with a smartphone – has equal access to the game.
Take a look: On average, there are 58 portals in neighborhoods that are majority white, compared with 26 portals in neighborhoods that are majority black, according to the Urban Institute. There are clusters of portals around the National Mall and other monuments, but the report excluded those from its review to home in on portals in D.C. neighborhoods.
The authors of the report, Shiva Kooragayala and Tanaya Srini, said this distribution is a missed opportunity in place-making — an approach to creating public spaces that improve people’s well-being and health.
“We see Pokémon Go as a way for everyone in the city to engage in space and make the public space together,” Kooragayala said. “In a city like D.C., where it so segregated and there are not many organic ways for people from different neighborhoods to interact, Pokémon Go is a way to have people from these different neighborhoods come together.”
Read the full study here.