John Hanke, the CEO of Pokemon GO developer Niantic, says that virtual reality gaming could become a "problem for society." The executive specifically warns against people using the technology too much, to the world's detriment.
Speaking during the Mixed Reality Summit at London Games Festival 2017, Hanke told the audience, "My thing about VR is I'm afraid it can be too good, in the sense of being an experience that people want to spend a huge amount of time in." Saying that "it's a problem for us as a society if we forgo that and spend all of time in a Ready Player One-style VR universe." The Pokemon GO developer also noted that there's "a lot of research" that shows that humans are "a lot happier when we get exercise, when we go outside - and outside in nature in particular."
With sales of VR headsets being disappointing, it seems unlikely that the entire world will live their lives through the technology any time soon. But even so, Hanke encouraged developers to use augmented reality (AR) to get people outside as with AR, "there's a huge amount of potential to do things that really do have a positive impact on people."
The Niantic CEO also referenced research about the health impact of AR games, such as studies that suggest Pokemon GO players have taken 100 billion steps, saying that "games can encourage people to be more active than they would normally be." Hanke added that "I think there's a ton of good that can be done."
Few will disagree about the benefits of games like Pokemon GO as many have said that the game makes them more social. The popularity of the mobile title has helped people make friends, discover historic locations in their area and even raise money for charity.
But on the other hand, games like this, especially those that get lots of people in one location, can also cause trouble. From the stampedes that were caused when many Pokemon GO players went to New York's Central Park last year to criminals luring Pokemon GO players in, or players finding themselves in real trouble (such as being stranded out in nature) when they've wandered too far astray, there is no shortage of stories about the dangers of the game. So although there are some real positives to AR games, any developers who take up Hanke's advice will need to take account of the downsides to the technology too.
Pokemon GO is available now for Android and iOS devices.