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All the World’s a Stage: What’s AR and Which Games Do it Best?

Do you ever have that feeling that you’re sleeping during your waking life, or that you’re awake, walking through a dream, painting and manipulating the world around you as if it were a canvas? If this happens often you may want to see a doctor. If it’s when you’re on a smartphone, you’re probably one of the countless users who have chosen to experience everything that augmented reality (AR) apps and games have to offer.

Augmented reality blends digital graphics with the real world, using the physical realm as a canvass to overlay images on, bringing the offline and online world together.

AR is not immersive like VR (virtual reality). It doesn’t block out the outside world and seclude you in a total sensory experience. AR combines the outside world and the digital world – you’re always using your own senses to take in what’s happening in the real world, with the features and graphics of the AR program superimposed onto the world around you.

Is AR the next big thing? It’s hard to say, but according to a Forbes article from November, 2016, by 2021 augmented reality technology will be a $5.7 billion industry, and if you ask Apple chief executive Tim Cook, AR is "a big idea like the smartphone.”

Cook may be getting ahead of himself, but AR is definitely here to stay, and there is potentially no end to the ways in which companies and individuals could benefit from using AR. Business owners can integrate it with their products in order to improve customer service and create guerilla marketing campaigns. For instance, car companies could offer customers the option to hold their device up to their car while they highlight where to do what to make simple repairs. If you’re trying to find a store in a sprawling suburban mall, an AR app could light up the path, a la the “Billy Jean” video (if you’re old enough to remember that), while also having ads or info about the stores you’re passing pop up on your screen in real time.

In the here and now though, one of the main ways that AR is making an impact is in the world of gaming. It presents a new, interactive way for gamers to incorporate the real world into their gameplay, and the possibilities are endless.

The Game Changer: Pokemon Go

Unless you were stuck somewhere outside of Earth’s orbit for the latter half of 2016, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about Pokemon Go, a free, location-based AR game available both on Android and iOS devices. The game uses the player’s mobile device and GPS to send them chasing through the real world after little virtual creatures called Pokemon. These imaginary creatures appear on the device screen superimposed over the real world, as part of one of the most addictive and interactive gaming experiences to come down the pike in a long time. Critics might not have loved it, but that didn’t stop Niantic from racking up over 500 million downloads of the app.

The release of Pokemon Go was a watershed event for the field of AR, bringing it to a massive and mainstream audience, and showing the potential for the technology’s melding of the virtual and the physical. Even more shocking, it got untold numbers of teenagers to actually go outside willingly, in a sort of collective “exergaming” movement the likes of which had never been seen. Sure, their eyes were still glued to their smartphones, but it’s a good start.


Exergaming is a term used to describe games that give you a nice workout – and also an excuse to spend hours hunched over your smartphone screen (you can shout “I’m doing cardio!” if anyone asks). These games break the sedentary mold and get you outside, while the technology tracks your movements and location as a central aspect of the gameplay.

Ingress is a leading mobile game in which two opposing factions compete against each other capturing “portals” that are scattered over a public area. By seizing these portals or destroying or damaging ones belonging to the opposing side, they’re able to control territory and score points or “access points.” In a sense it’s similar to “capture the flag,” just played on mobile devices – and you don’t have to go to summer camp to play.

The backstory involves a mysterious “exotic matter” scattered across the Earth, and players split into two opposing sides – “the Enlightened” and “the Resistance,” represented by the colors green and blue, respectively. The location of the portals and the territory held by the opposing sides are demarcated on a map corresponding to the real world locale in which the players are located. The potential hasn’t been lost on advertisers, who have paid to have their storefronts used as portals in the game, attracting potential customers.

If you’re looking to bring the spirit world out of your phone and into your living room, you should give “SpecTrek” a shot.

This exergaming experience puts you in the role of a Ghostbuster, just with a smartphone in hand instead of a proton pack. The game is available on Android only, and bears the tagline “protect the world, stay in shape”.

In the game, you navigate across a haunted Google map that corresponds to your location, searching for ghosts. When you find one