17th July 2016

I spent over three hours last evening in the grip of augmented reality. Walking through a world fully known to me – neighbours chatting, family gatherings, whisky fuelled sing-songs, the odd errant aunt, or uncle – things began to happen that I had never seen before. At times my heart raced, at times I was gripped with tension, at times I laughed out loud. Throughout, I saw my own reality in a different way – and simply couldn’t wait to talk to my friend about the experience once it was all done.

My augmented reality experience of last night was at the theatre. A play called The Wake, by Tom Murphy. It was a breathtaking tour de force using the millennia-old device of juxtaposing normality with surreality, and placing it below a proscenium arch. Those ancient Greeks must have known they were on to something good.

Pokémon Go – born last Friday and already the biggest online gaming software of all time – is what happens at the intersection of technology and theatre. And it is sensational.

Sensational, because it promises to solve, over time, two pressing human needs in one:

– It offers a way to escape smartphone passivity. Those hours when I am stationery and passively looking at screens. The slavery which curtails my social life, limits my dreams and locks me from the world;

– It helps deliver the yearning of every human heart. The opportunity to bring colour and stimulation to life’s banal moments so that we may feel more, learn more, live more;

Pokémon Go is a game that even non-gamers like myself can have a stab at comprehending. (Because the app was not downloadable in Ireland, I have not yet been able to experiment and report back).

The object is to go out into the world, smartphone in hand, in order to hunt and gather all the Pokémon characters you can. The Pokémon world exists as a skin above our own world. It is interactive theatre, of sorts. Familiar, real landmarks become places where Pokés congregate and can be won. At every moment, GPS knows where you are, where fellow-hunters are, and where those elusive Pokémon reside.

A system of allures and incubators allow you to catch your quarry and develop them, to further your own Promethean ends. Oh, and in the meantime, you get to be outside, to meet like-minded players, to ease your craving for winning, and to delight in the absurd.

Pokémon Go is the start of a new kind of experience beyond the reality of our lives, bringing it wit, learning, community and ambition. It also moves to help solve the dark soul of the smartphone revolution: our shackled, passive isolation.

In the final scene at the Abbey theatre last night, the character of Vera (played with astonishing bravery and authenticity by Aisling O’Sullivan) collapses on all-fours, in soul-crushing despair.

Vera has come through a week of ungodly anguish, emerging as the only noble and sane person amongst a family who themselves would elect to dump her in a ‘looney bin’.

“It’s the loneliness” she cries out, bleakly.

Her words cut the silence in the theatre, a medium of human interaction and understanding alive in our civilisation for 2,500 years. I emerge into a balmy Dublin, a somewhat changed man. Theatre is one hell of a wild adventure when it’s done well.

Yes. I think the ancient Greeks would have embraced Pokémon Go. What’s not to love in a fresh new voice, born to augment life’s rich pageant?

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