At the moment, it seems like Pokemon Go is literally the biggest thing to have ever happened in human history. Even people who have never really paid attention to Pokemon before are joining in and meeting up to enjoy the game, which has (on the whole) been a wonderful thing to see.
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that tasks players with exploring their local areas for new ‘mons while battling other players at Gym hotspot locations. The entire game is about getting out, exploring your city, and meeting other people.
— Christopher Hooton (@ChristophHooton) July 12, 2016
Unfortunately, the game is being ruined by cheaters. Evil ne’er-do-wells that spoof their GPS location to catch Pokemon and fight gyms without leaving the house are the bane of the community. Pokemon Go has competitive elements in the form of gym battles to gain control over an area, and GPS spoofing allows those with strong Pokemon to roll around the world and lay waste to all those who oppose them.
Thankfully, developer Niantic Labs is ruthless in seeking out such undesirables and banning them.
Except the people doing this probably aren’t evil cheaters, and spoofing isn’t the real problem. It’s a symptom of a much bigger issue that pervades Pokemon Go that can’t be fixed with a simple banning: it’s a bugger to play if you’re not a very specific type of person.
I’m disabled, have limited mobility, and live in a rural area. The range I’m able to justify travelling to find Pokemon stops more or less at the end of my drive. The effort, pain, and difficulty in walking distances others would find reasonable would be tough for me to handle, even in a built-up area crowded with Muks and Farfetch’d. When gyms, pokespots, and Pokemon are spread so far apart in rural areas, the commitment needed to participate is too much.
While there is a very real reason to ban GPS spoofers abusing the system to steam roll distant gyms, it’s more likely Niantic is banning players who do it because of it bypassing their microtransaction system. Buying pokelures to bring all the ‘mons to the yard and having to seek out PokeStops to grab more balls to capture them is kind of pointless when you can travel half the world in a matter of seconds.
People with physical disabilities? People with anxiety? People who don’t live in major settlements? It very much feels like these people come behind both able-bodied people who live in cities and Niantic’s profits.
It’s such a shame because, as someone with admittedly very little development experience, there seems like there may be ways Niantic could support players like me. Let us virtually “travel” to other areas by waiting roughly the same amount of time it’d take to walk, for example (Google Maps can already predict travelling times for different methods of transport), or add a fatigue meter to how far players can “jump” with GPS spoofing. Why lock out those who can’t travel, when we’d be just as likely to buy into Niantic’s microtransaction system if we were included?
Pokemon Go has become a global phenomenon that has brought people together in the physical world. We’ve all seen the videos of places like New York’s Central Park and Canberra being swamped by Go players… but that doesn’t mean those who can’t take part should be banned for trying. It means developers should consider ways to support us as well.