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Engagement Lab, Boston Youth “Hack” Pokémon GO

The Emerson Engagement Lab partnered with the makers of Pokémon GO and the City of Boston to highlight the history of Roxbury’s Dudley Square neighborhood and get local youth excited about civic media.

Last month, the Engagement Lab and Niantic, Inc., hosted AR Stories Hack Day, which worked with students from the 826 writing program at John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science to rewrite descriptions of historical sites in Dudley Square within Pokémon GO, a popular augmented reality (AR) game for mobile devices.

Pokémon GO, released in July 2016, allows players to “capture” digital creatures on their smartphones and collect virtual items as they move through their actual surroundings. Items and Pokémon are found at PokéStops and “Gyms,” which are often located in real-world places of interest and provide players with information about the sites within the game.

“The goal of the day was to introduce kids to how data defines their communities, and give them the opportunity to ‘hack’ the PokéStop descriptions in Pokémon GO to make digital spaces their own,” Eric Gordon, Engagement Lab executive director and Visual and Media Arts professor, said in a statement.

At the same event, Niantic unveiled 13 new PokéStops suggested by BPS students as part of a summer program through the Engagement Lab and the Mayor’s Office of Urban Mechanics.

Nearly 20 students participated in the Hack Day, during which they explored an itinerary of Dudley Square sites compiled by students from the United Unitarian Universalist Ministries, the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center, and members of the Roxbury Historical Society. The kids then split into groups and wrote enriched, meaningful descriptions of the sites for use in the game.

The event was designed to bring the local community together to celebrate and share the rich history of Dudley Square, a center of African American culture in Boston. 


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