Boston Promotes Youth Civic Advocacy Through Pokémon GO

Sep 15, 2017   |   Engagement Lab at Emerson College

During the months of July and August, the Engagement Lab at Emerson College and ENGAGE Boston, in partnership with the City of Boston and Niantic, Inc, the publisher and developer of the interactive mobile game Pokémon GO, launched a youth-led, city-wide creative competition to promote equitable representation of Boston neighborhoods in the popular mobile game, Pokémon GO.

The Participatory Pokémon GO project was meant to familiarize youth with the relationship between physical and digital civic spaces, while strengthening the representation of all Boston neighborhoods in Pokémon GO.

Youth across Boston were able to join the competition and explore their neighborhoods and identify meaningful locations they wanted to become new PokéStops, real-world locations that reward players in the game. After locating a potential PokéStop, students created 60-second videos explaining why these locations matter and why they should be highlighted in Pokémon GO.

Participatory Pokémon GO Youth Panel

After video submissions ended, a youth Participatory Pokémon GO panel was formed to both create the criteria for winning videos and ultimately pick the winners of the competition. High schoolers selected for the panel hailed from different organizations across the City of Boston, including the Mayor’s Youth Council and Teens in Print.

Sample video submission for a new PokéStop near the Joseph P. Manning School.

The finalized criteria the youth panel used for judging the videos included:

  • Quality – Amount of effort put into video, creation of best content to their ability, youth appear interested in the area or the video in which they are presenting.
  • Content – Answers why the location has important historical, cultural, and personal significance using a strong, compelling argument.
  • Creativity – Is it an interesting location? Does the video highlight any interesting points, or present them in an unique or creative way?
  • Accessibility – Is the location safe to access? Can you access this spot year round? Would people want to come to this location?
  • Distribution – Are there already existing PokéStops in this area? If this is already a PokéStop, does the video support a good argument, or provide greater information?
Sample video submission for a new PokéStop in South End Blackstone Basketball Court

“We hope to engage young people in a conversation about the location data they interact with on a daily basis, whether playing games or walking around their neighborhoods. Everyday life in the city is composed of physical structures, and increasingly, the data that defines digital experiences,” said Eric Gordon, Executive Director of the Engagement Lab and Professor of Visual & Media Arts at Emerson College.

The winning locations for new PokéStops will be announced this October. In the meantime, all the video submissions are viewable here.

The Engagement Lab at Emerson College is an applied research and design lab that investigates and creates media and technology to reduce disparities in civic participation. We work with partners to co-design solutions to the most pressing problems in democracy and governance, including participation gaps, gender or racial discrimination, lack of basic media literacies, youth exclusion and gaps in public health practices. From playing games, to making media, to running campaigns, we create opportunities for people to creatively participate in civic life. Whether they are used in classrooms or town squares, the tools and processes we develop make civic engagement meaningful for citizens and communities.

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