Why Pokemon Go matters to Canadian Cultural Policy Debates

Mark V. Campbell

In less than one week, our public spaces, churches, retail stores and stock prices have been dramatically impacted by the Canadian launch of Pokemon Go, a mobile game taking North America by storm.

As players explore various physical locations, eyes glued to mobile device in hand, in search of elusive Pokemon characters, Pokemon Go has ignited new conversations about technology and behaviour including  interesting questions about the changing rules of play and need for new etiquette. It also offers powerful insights into how culture, entertainment and audience behaviour can change virtually overnight, with the right stimulus.

The game, which launched in Canada on Sunday July 17 and was welcomed by at least one thousand people in an impromptu outdoor release party, has changed the nature of mobile gaming.  Unlike previously popular games, such as Angry Birds or Candy Crush, Pokemon Go requires players to explore their physical surroundings, augmented by in-game content.  Currently, Pokemon Go is the number one downloaded app in the iTunes store, with more than 7.5 million users in the United States.  Pokemon GO players spend more time on the app than Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat — some of the most popular apps today.

In Canada, as we continue to debate the future of Canadian content in our creative industries including gaming, there is much to learn from the Pokemon Go craze.  In terms of digital content, Nintendo created a product that took a risk by asking its core gaming market to change how they game. Such a risk could have alienated their customer base, yet it most likely attracted new users as more people have mobile phones than gaming systems.





What if media producers in Canada took a page from Nintendo and asked their audiences to behave differently, or imagine “Canadianness” differently?  What behavioural changes could we inspire in from our audiences in how they consume Canadian content, and how might those changes help usher a new era of Canadian creativity?

What if Canadian content followed the lead of YouTube star Lily ‘Superwoman’ Singh’s What Canadians Really Want to Say to Americans?  Singh, in a video released on  Canada Day, takes us light years away from how Canadians are usually portrayed instead demonstrating a diverse, witty and confident Canadian identity and sensibility.

What if Canadian content debates placed users at the centre of their policy innovations, just as Pokemon Go’s designers put the gamer at the physical heart of their fictitious universe? Would the question of audience demographics get equal attention in the discussions, alongside issues of technological disruption?

Once  we begin discuss Canadian content by focusing on questions of technology, national ideology and demographics, a new set of questions materialize.  Questions such as, what kinds of stories will the newly arrived Syrians inspire/create and what digital platforms will speak to the massive Syrian diaspora?  Or, how will the narrative of being Canadian evolve twenty-five years from now with our declining birth rates, climate change or future migration to Canada?

To accomplish the monumental task for setting a new course for Canadian content in this country there are three ways our federal government can equip itself for the next quarter century.  First, dynamic young people content creators under 30 years old should be included as part of Minister’s Joly’s advisory.  These young content creators will have experienced success with their films, webseries and other creative works.  Such young creators could provide deep insight into the implications for new technologies and business strategies, like some of the amazing all digital clothing stores I’ve found on Instagram or the way SnapChat impacts audiences and their communicative impulses. Secondly, include newcomer not as Canadian content subject matter experts but as diasporic and interconnected audiences and possibly content creator.  For those that have come to Canada in the age of the internet, staying connected to relatives across the world means learning how to use mobile applications like What’s App, or finding small niche retailers to obtain the latest film from their former homeland. New Canadians have valuable experiences navigating and connecting with others in the globalized world. Third, and finally, envision a Canada beyond its geographic borders.  If the age of the internet has taught us anything, it is that our former notions of national borders are more culturally and ideologically porous.  A country can no longer consider itself the sole or dominant ideologue amongst its citizens.  We need to think about expatriate communities such as those teaching English overseas, for them Canada is very much alive digitally and in their nostalgia soaked memories.  Snowbirds in Florida or retired Caribbean migrants who have returned ‘home’ are also audience we should consider outside outside national borders.

The rules and realities around Canadian content have changed dramatically and our federal government’s reaction to these changes will dictate how well we can compete in the global marketplace.  If we fail to seize the lessons of a craze like Pokemon Go, Canadian content debates will not benefit from the diverse demographic of our country.  With 300,000 newcomers to Canada each year, Canadian content could actively seek out markets and audiences with connections outside our borders and leverage diverse perspectives. The stories new Canadians might be interested in telling could have global reach, in places like Switzerland and China, making good use of one’s diasporic communities.   If the Canada or Canadianness we produce in our creative industries ignores its technologically savvy youth audiences and creators, its new Canadians or its Canadians abroad, we are likely to create policies that will enhance the ambiguities of Canadian identity and weaken future generations’ abilities to identify with our country and desires to creatively render our future to the world.

No Comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

16 + seventeen =