I already kind of brought up my initial thoughts on Pokemon GO, but with all kinds of news sites, blogs and memes cropping up complaining about the spread of the game, the dangers of distraction, and the overall degrading of our society by the scourge that is the smart phone, I actually felt compelled to go into a little more detail. Frankly, I find a lot of these reactions to be over-the-top, sensationalist, and occasionally actually hilarious.
First and foremost, so many of these stories are outright fake, or at the very least exaggerated. That alone should really make everyone who seems oddly fixated on shaming people for playing the game rethink their position on the matter. However, secondly, and in my opinion more interestingly, I think it’s odd that many of these things complained about, from being distracted while walking to being glued to a screen all day, are things people were already doing before the dreaded Pokemon GO invaded our lives. The argument could be made that reading a book while walking makes you equally at risk for falling off a bridge or that looking for you dog could make you stumble onto a body (consider a nice chunk of Law and Order opening scenes).
I find it puzzling, really, that so many people claim that Pokemon GO is the new target in our witch hunt for the cause of our anti-social society. To hear critics tell it, Pokemon GO is the catalyst behind a drop in conversations, privacy invasion, and rabid children assaulting helpless property owners in order to steal the Tauros in their backyard. What I don’t hear nearly enough of is the other trend in Pokemon GO’s popularity: people are acting far more social. People speak to each other while on walks, children explore their neighborhood parks, city centers are visited more, and gamers get out of their house. Furthermore, non-gamers have started to consider that MAYBE this whole adults playing video games thing isn’t so shameful. Maybe it’s just a fun hobby.
So what exactly is Pokemon GO? Well it’s a game for smart phones based on the popular Pokemon franchise. When you turn on the application, your Pokemon trainer avatar will be shown walking on an electronic map of the real world and will move as the person does. Like in the game its based on, a big objective is to explore different areas and find Pokemon that appear on the map. By touching a Pokemon, you will enter a screen where you can try to catch it, using the phone’s camera to have the Pokemon appear to be in the real world. Public areas on the map, such as libraries, churches or open art, can be found on the map as Pokestops, with a lot of these stops having information regarding the location. Here you can collect items that will make catching Pokemon easier, as well as experience that will make your trainer better at catching stronger Pokemon. Gyms are also located around town, places which trainers who have chosen a team can battle for supremacy of the gym. There’s a lot more to this, but in general, that’s what a lot of the game involves. Walking around to catch critters.
Now, surely with all the strong feelings, not all of the negative ones can be wrong, can they? Surely there’s something to be worried about that one might try to take safeguards to prevent. In fact, there is! Remember those items I mentioned earlier?
Well like I said the best way to get them is to explore Pokestops. However it’s not necessarily the easiest. While we’re asking questions, though, should we also ask what exactly Nintendo gets out of all this, if not our children’s minds and the safety of our innocent citizens?
Yep. Pokemon GO is (of course) free-to-play, but pay for additional features. In this case, the features are items that augment your collection and growth capabilities. You can also buy upgrades for your bag and your pokemon storage, so you never have to be frustrated by having no room for the cool stuff you just found on your walk. While ultimately harmless, you might want to be careful just handing the phone to your kids and letting them run wild. If buying things on your phone is in any way easy, they’ll also run up your bill pretty fast. Furthermore, Pokemon GO could cause trouble on your bill if you don’t have a data plan and server issues could have you spending more time trying to load than play, however it doesn’t eat up nearly as much as one would think (it saves its appetite for the battery!)
Pokemon is, of course, no stranger to moral panic and accusations of social degradation. When it first came out, countless religious groups and concerned parents were convinced that the game was a villainous plot from the east to force our children to believe in evolution, worship Satan, or conduct animal abuse. However, I would suggest that this backlash against Pokemon GO is less about fundamentalist pearl-clutching, and more about fear of the unknown. I think this is about a fear of change. Social norms are evolving. People are now considering their smartphones as utilities for their interactions. They are driven by a game to get to know their area. Where before we (allegedly) would be spurred by some deep need for exploration and a primal urge to engage with one another, we now have to admit… There are lots of reasons people may or may not interact with society. Pokemon GO is not the first craze to grasp national attention, nor will it be the last. Hopefully, though, we’ll learn to stop listening to all the negativity surrounding things we don’t understand, and just let people have fun and learn new ways to engage with one another. Consider this: an animal shelter in Indiana put out a promotion where designated dogs could be walked while people playing Pokemon GO hatched eggs. We’re starting to get good examples of how games like this can ironically get people involved in their communities again.