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2016 Meldon Law Scholarship Winner

Sharon Lin’S Winning Scholarship Essay

2017 Meldon Law Scholarship Winner

Written by Sharon Lin

Sharon Lin is a senior at Stuyvesant High School and the co-founder of StuyHacks and BitxBit Camp. She is a Regeneron STS Semifinalist, Google Science Fair Finalist, and plans on majoring in computer science.

Pokemon Go: An Autonomy of Choice

The extent to which autonomy exists within augmented reality games such as Pokemon Go are an indicator into how much of an influence they truly have over gamers. Even while some may claim that companies that produce or distribute these games are responsible for the actions of their players, the question ultimately becomes whether or not the players of such games are truly in control of their own actions, or whether the companies that create these games have more influence than they seem to have.

In the case of augmented reality games, the simple fact that they distort reality by superimposing fictional elements onto our known world is a factor that allows such games a degree of realism that virtual reality or more traditional video games cannot encompass. Pokemon Go, for instance, juxtaposes cartoon Pokemon onto our world, allowing users to “catch” these creature similar to how they might photograph a wild animal in reality.

In addition, because of the geographical elements of the game, Pokemon Go requires that users travel to actual locations in order to catch their Pokemon using their phone’s internal GPS in order to track the location of the user. As opposed to in more traditional Pokemon games of the franchise where users take the place of a fictional avatar they control in a fictional world, Pokemon Go’s appeal largely stems from the realism of being able to find and catch a limited quantity of Pokemon while competing against other real players.

It is here that the difference between autonomy of choices occurs. While some may argue that because the companies are forcing users to travel outside in order to play their game they are suggesting that users become involved in potentially dangerous situations, others argue that although the game does require an element of physical movement, it does not necessarily require that players do anything. After all, the essence of Pokemon Go is still that of a game, and as a result there is nothing that precedes the factor of entertainment that it offers to players.

Similar to the philosophical concept of liberal paternalism, a concept describing how institutions can influences the choices of individuals which was popularized in the late 20th century by psychologists Richard Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, the autonomy of choice presented by Pokemon Go has driven controversy towards the topic in recent months. Because of the number of users becoming involved in dangerous situations through the game, there is a necessity to determine who is truly at fault for such incidents.

Thaler and Sunstein recognized that so long as there was an option out, and if institutions were not truly controlling consumers, but rather suggesting that they perform a certain way, then the situation was not forced and the institutions could not truly be at fault. Similarly, because Pokemon Go never requires players to do anything, and because it is simply a game that gives players the choice of acting on its suggestions, there cannot be blame placed towards the company for the actions of its consumers. Essentially, because the consumers have chosen to play the game, and because they have made their choices as to how they play the game, they are the only individuals truly responsible for the consequences of their actions.

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