The wild success of Pokémon Go has illustrated the potential of augmented reality (AR) to the masses. It has also inspired a number of archaeologists to begin to ponder how iOS and Android AR apps could be used to involve students and the general public in the history and heritage of various archaeological sites. In the wake of Pokémon Go mania, gamifying archaeology presents more possibilities for engaging the public and preserving cultural heritage than ever before.
For more perspective on this, I turned to Andrew Reinhard a scholar and archaeologist on the forefront of gaming and archaeology, who heads up publications at the American Numismatic Society. You likely know him best from his work on the Atari excavations, which unearthed the E.T. game cartridges buried in the New Mexico desert. He also writes about archaeogaming on his blog. His recent blog post discusses the role of AR in archaeology and his own quest to visit a few PokéStops around Princeton, New Jersey.
An article on the economic impact of Pokemon Go on small businesses lays out the steps for capitalizing on the power of the PG craze. It suggests that you find out whether you are a Pokestop, throw down “lures” and advertise on social media. But how then to apply this to ancient sites like Pompeii or perhaps the newly declared (but less well-known) UNESCO site of Philippi in northern Greece? Reinhard notes, “Sites that want visitor traffic to increase should use those [small business] steps…A site is a business. It competes for one’s discretionary time and income (if admission is charged).” Museums such as the MOMA are already doing this and archaeological sites are not far behind.
Certainly there were a number of archaeologists working to introduce augmented reality apps to cultural heritage sites long before Pokémon Go came around. Pokémon Go’s parent company, Niantic, already has an app called “Field Trip” that runs in the background of your phone and alerts you when you are near certain sites. A pop-up card comes onto your screen when you get near certain historical places or markers of interest. Reinhard was integral to bringing together the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) with Field Trip, so that visitors to the Athenian Agora could learn more about the ancient sites. The app similarly focuses on the novelty of discovery and uses the GPS functionality of most cell phones, but is missing a key component: gaming.
Another early mobile system developed for classical archaeology is called Archeoguide. As the developers noted back in 2002 “Archeoguide, short for Augmented Reality-Based Cultural Heritage On-Site Guide, to bridge the gap between recreation, education, and scientific research.” Although the project appears to be largely at a stand-still, it was an early pioneer that tried to apply AR to ancient sites such as Olympia, where the first Olympics were held. Just imagine a mobile game where people could go to the site and race an ancient runner (assumedly with clothes on, rather than the traditional athletic uniform of the birthday suit). Integrating the public into the site via competition and games, rather than just giving them Wikipedia-like entries, is what will likely hold their interest more fully (cont. on next page).