Long ago, when people believed in fairies, they longed for a way to see these supernatural creatures invisible to the naked eye. Maybe they were invisible because they were too tiny to see, as became the prevailing belief after Shakespeare, or maybe this was simply because the Fair Folk were supernatural, and as such they lived in an Otherworld that touched our own, but was not on our own plane of existence.
So there came the belief that with the aid of certain tools, ordinary humans could see fairies. One such tool was a stone that had a naturally-occurring hole in it. One would hold this stone up to one’s eye, and through the hole one could see through the veil into the Otherworld of fairies. In the last decade this bit of folklore has featured in the book and movie versions of The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008 film) / The Seeing Stone (2003 book) by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, as well as in Coraline (2009 film, 2002 book) by Neil Gaiman. According to Wikipedia (that most respected of easy research sites), names for the magical stone include adder stones, hag stones, witch stones, serpent’s eggs, snake’s eggs, Glain Neidr, milpreve, adderstanes, Gloine nan Druidh, and finally aggry or aggri.
Pokémon Go is the new method for seeing into the Otherworld. Pokémon Go is a computer program in our phones, of course, but the app functions in the same way as would have the fairy stone method. A player gives the app permission to use the phone’s camera function, and then when Pokémon appear on the game map, they pop up as cartoons against the real-life backdrop the camera sees on the other side of the phone’s screen. The game infuses a bit of magic and whimsey into everyday experience, much as seeing a fairy creature where one had previously seen only one’s home and deep dark woods would have done. (Admittedly, that experience probably would have brought a great deal more fear than glimpsing a Pokémon.)
Humans always feel a pull to experience more in the world around us. We may get our fix of enhanced reality from a traditional religion, or a more geographically-based folk belief, or a globally-shared phenomenon of capitalism. In our connection to gods or fairies or Pokémon, people can feel as though they are specially connected to the world around us, tied to something beyond the mundane world most other people know to be the extent of living.
Augmented reality is a different experience than virtual reality. Other augmented reality games exist, such as Zombies, Run!, a GPS-based running app. Augmented reality may be here to stay, but I don’t foresee it being as celebrated as speculators in the 1980s might have expected. Pokémon Go did not retain its massive popularity even for half a year after its release. The Google Glass experiment has ended, and the Harry Potter Go game announced a few months ago has been debunked as a fake. However, I have no doubt that the enhanced reality game will only evolve into new forms (much like Pokémon evolve into stronger forms). As long as people strive to take a hero’s journey, and they have the ability to do so without actually abandoning the progress they have made on their normal lives, then the magic of augmented reality will continue to enchant.