A specter is haunting Argentina — the specter of Pokémon Go. All the powers of the world have entered into a holy alliance to stoke it: Nintendo, Niantic and, for some reason, The Workers’ Party of Argentina.
Ever since Pokémon Go was launched in Argentina Wednesday night, PokéStops have popped up in many famous locations around the City of Buenos Aires, including the Casa Rosada and other famous historical sites… including the headquarters of Argentina’s leftist Workers’ Party (PO).
According to the party’s website, the leftist group is pretty excited about the new influx of interested Pokémon proletariat. The party welcomes the “players that have found these PokéStops here, where, more than obtaining benefits for your game performances, you will have the possibility to come closer to strongholds of militant workers and socialists, and organization centers for the working class and the youth.”
A disclaimer: I have never played Pokémon Go, and even now I’m not sure what was involved in Poké-fandom. Nostalgia is a powerful enough life force to compel me to own multiple Nelly Furtado songs and at least one choker, but not enough for me to engage with a game that doesn’t also make me remember my childhood.
As an observer, however, what is most fascinating about the game is the way it layers the virtual world over our own, using an interface that looks like Google Maps, but isn’t. The streets match up, but in the space where a sidewalk used to be, a slight rustling in the grass reveals a Pokémon, or a blue square becomes a PokéStop. It’s not a complete virtual reality immersion, which somehow makes it feel more real. Fantasy worlds are often quite similar to our own world, the difference being the potential to see other, fantastical things. So for the length of the game, Pokémon allows the entire world to be in on the same daydream.
But this is an algorithm, so sometimes the overlaying of virtual and real locations is unexpectedly hilarious, like the confluence of Trotskyites and Torterra.
While Pokémon Go, like almost everything else, can be understood through the means of labor and production (perhaps Pokémon are instruments of production, which are exploited and collected at the whims of the bourgeois class?), the connection between the Workers’ Party and Pokémon Go has less to do with real ideology and more to do with virtual reality.
An explanation can be understood through the history of another virtual reality game that Niantic produced, called Ingress. In the game, the world around you is not what you see; famous city sculptures become portals, and the object of the game is to find these “energy fields,” to understand a vast global conspiracy. In the City of Buenos Aires, some of the “portals” located in architectural sites included the Workers’ Party headquarters, because of the dazzling murals often painted outside the PO sites. The developer of Ingress, Niantic Labs, is the same company that developed the Pokémon Go app. In creating PokéStops in Buenos Aires, the app utilized the existing information from Ingress, and converted the old Ingress portals into PokéStops.