Q&A with Niantic Labs Game and Narrative Creative and UCLA Alum Raza Ahmad

By Jessica Wolf, UCLA Newsroom


Niantic Labs’ game and narrative creative and UCLA alum Raza Ahmad, will be joining us this Thursday for our forum on the future of augmented reality to discuss his journey at UCLA, his work on Pokémon GO and Ingress, and his insights on the future of augmented reality in gaming.

Prior to our event, UCLA Newsroom asked him to share a few thoughts with them in the Q&A below:

Looking back on your time at UCLA, what experiences, courses or faculty members have been most influential as you’ve pursued your career?

From a practical point of view, there were a series of gaming classes under the TFT umbrella while I was in the program. I took them all and was eventually brought in to TA those classes in later quarters. I ended up TAing a one-off class on alternate reality gaming taught by Flint Dille. The relationship I formed with him ultimately directly led to my involvement in Niantic — he’s the creative lead on the project and he recruited me for it. Much of what we did together in that class laid the foundation for work we would expand on and improve as we embarked on Ingress.

From an artistic and personal point of view, the teachers in the program represented a really diverse set of styles, attitudes and approaches, and learning to appreciate those varied positions on how to treat the craft of storytelling was valuable … the sum total being stronger than any individual component in the system.

What does your position at Niantic Labs entail and how did you get involved with Ingress and the phenomenon that is “Pokemon Go”?

I’m part of the creative team for Niantic. We’re a pretty small group, and our mission is to explore this new space we are operating in … experiment with how the real world can weave back and forth with a fictional medium, how that can integrate with people’s desire to go out and see, discover and experience new things and … importantly, do that together so that this process is not just personal but communal and engages people with different strengths and interests.

At the top level, that’s sort of the open mission we have, and we’re pretty privileged to be in this position. Niantic as a company and John Hanke (our CEO) give us a tremendous amount of support and empower us to experiment and learn. We are trying to figure out the playbook for this new kind of gaming and storytelling; it’s not virgin territory but at the same time the rules are highly fluid and there’s tremendous opportunity for creative exploration. I was very early in on the process, probably a year and change before Ingress emerged into the open. Our adventure in and learnings about this medium as a company have helped create the foundation that Pokémon GO then built upon.

What does the rampant popularity of this game tell us about the future of mobile entertainment and media?

That’s a huge question, but at the most basic level I think this has to do with how we relate to each other and to technology…. There are ways that technology separates us both from the world and each other, and there are ways it brings us together and connects us back to the world. The success of both Ingress and Pokémon GO are an affirmation that people have an appetite to get out there and really be within their neighborhoods and cities, and that they have a desire to be part of communities that engage in real, meaningful and positive ways. The technology might be new, but the instincts here are not. I think experiences like Ingress and Pokémon GO are empowering and enriching these desires that were already there.

See the entire Q&A with Raza Ahmad at UCLA Newsroom.

Media Contact:
Jessica Wolf, UCLA Newsroom