Exploring the Material Conditions of Pokémon Go Play in Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi

Souza e Silva, A., Glover-Rijkse, R., Njathi, A., & De Cunto Bueno, D. (2021). Exploring the Material Conditions of Pokémon Go Play in Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi. Information, Communication and Society. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2021.1909098

Abstract: Pokémon Go offers an important locus for understanding how location-based mobile gaming practices interconnect with urban mobility and the materialities of urban spaces. Yet, most of the literature on location-based mobile games overlooks the specific materialities that influence gameplay in Global South cities. These are worth considering, given that Pokémon Go requires players to move through their environment with access to both a mobile smartphone and network connection. These prerequisites pose challenges to players because in some Global South cities players experience difficult mobilities, precarious access to technologies, and inconsistent networked connections. To explore these issues, we offer a qualitative study about Pokémon Go gameplay in two large Global South cities: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Nairobi (Kenya). We have chosen these two cities because of their similar social, infrastructural, and economic inequalities. Based on interviews with Pokémon Go players, we explore how these inequalities shape the interconnections between location-based gameplay, mobile phone use, and urban mobilities. We found out that players often contend with urban challenges by adopting a number of practices, unique to their local context, to successfully play the game. These practices include collaborating and caring for others during and outside gameplay and adjusting their mobilities to preserve networked connections. Our study contributes an understanding of how players, in these cities, respond to their material circumstances in order to play the game and care for each other. We also offer a framework for understanding location-based gameplay outside Global North contexts.