The crowdsourced database that was use to seed locations to catch Pokemon in Pokemon Go came from early augmented reality games that were played by overwhelmingly affluent (and thus, disproportionately white) people, who, in an increasingly racially segregated America, are less and less likely to venture into black neighborhoods, meaning that fewer Pokemon-catching landmarks have been tagged there.
This wasn't as glaring a problem while the landmark database was being used with Ingress, Pokemon Go's predecessor, because the players were affluent (and this overwhelmingly white). Now that Pokemon Go has given AR its breakthrough moment and a more diverse player-base, the sampling bias in the creation of its underlying database is unmissable.
In addition to the problem of making black players do more work to score as many points as their white counterpoints, this also exacerbates the Pokemon While Black problem: in an American policing/race landscape where merely moving though a white neighborhood with black skin can be a lethal experience, black people literally have to risk their lives to play on the same field as white players.
A 2015 Pew poll shows that gaming crosses demographic lines among young people. But Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, pointed out, "Just because someone is black, it doesn't mean they are living in a black place. If you are talking about young people you are maybe talking about college campuses, or young black folks living and working in much more diverse places. When you talk about gamers, it also gets to questions about leisure, who are folks that have the time… Working class, working poor, they do not have the time." And studies have shown that poor black people are more likely to live among other poor people than are poor white people.
Network effects, which can reinforce racial segregation, were a major force behind the spread of Ingress; some 11 percent of players received their access codes from friends.
"People are living in very segregated places, so it would not be surprising that a game like this would reproduce those separations," said Neal.
Those who live among dense pokéstops and gyms can earn more experience points, collect more items, and take and defend gyms. Collecting items without pokéstops is possible via in-game purchases, but players in pokéstop-plentiful areas need not spend any money on the game at all.
[Christopher Huffaker/Belleville News-Democrat]
(Image: POKEMON GO GAMEPLAY – POKEMON GO IN REAL LIFE! – POKEMON REVIEW
, Dalton White/Youtube, CC-BY)