PLAYFUL MOBILITIES IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF POKÉMON GO PLAY BETWEEN RIO DE JANEIRO AND NAIROBI
Keywords:Pokemon Go, mobilities, security, location-based games, urban spaces
In 2016, the release of the location-based game, Pokémon Go, prompted millions of players worldwide to venture into the streets to catch digital creatures, known as Pokémon. Since then, Pokémon Go has received strong attention from the popular press and scholarly community, exploring considerations of mobility, sociability, commoditization, and safety risks as part of the game. However, most of this attention has focused on the game’s popularity in the Global North, failing to consider how issues of infrastructural access and development can shape experiences of play. To respond to this gap, we offer a study exploring how dense urban spaces within the Global South shape players’ experiences of Pokémon Go gameplay and, inversely, how Pokémon Go shapes players mobilities through these urban spaces. We consider the ludic mobilities of players in Nairobi, Kenya and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, two Global South cities with similar population and ICT adoption rates. We proceed by asking the research questions: How do considerations related to mobile access affect experiences of playing Pokémon Go, and, inversely, how does experience of the urban space shape players’ mediated mobilities? Findings reveal that mobilities in the Global South are often at odds with the ludic mobilities encouraged in Pokémon Go, as issues of violence, theft, traffic jams, and insecurity come to the fore. Consequently, this study offers important insights about the intersections of mobile devices, communication and transportation infrastructures, mobile gaming interfaces, and all the social and political aspects associated with urban mobilities in developing countries.