Gotta Lure 'Em All! The commodification of physical encounters and social connections in Pokémon GO
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This bachelor thesis studies how Niantic's location-based game Pokémon GO commodifies physical encounters and social connections of players, which can be viewed as free labour, or so-called playbour. Theories on commodification, playbour, surveillance capitalism, the social side of gaming and pervasive games are used to explain how Niantic can profit off social activity of players in the game. Methods used to research this phenomenon were inspired by Van Dijck's platform analysis and include Stanfill's discursive interface analysis and Anderson's autoethnography. This thesis is divided into three levels of analysis; it will start with providing an overview of the service Niantic offers at (small) businesses of sponsoring PokéStops and its revenue model. Then it shows different types of affordances in the game's interface that stimulate players to meet and play at physical locations. These affordances include features in the game that attract players to stay longer at specific locations or to visit locations with a great number of players. Finally, by conducting an autoethnography, the author shows her personal findings, as a Pokémon GO player, on the play experience of the game after becoming aware of the commodification of physical encounters and social connections. It is argued that the game does in fact stimulate players to play at physical places in order to profit off their social interaction. However, even though this form of commodification can be negatively labelled as playbour, it is still the responsibility of the players how to act on it. Besides that, it is argued that the commodification of players' social activity can entail extra social options for players, creating more opportunities for players to have physical encounters and enjoy social connections.