I've given the game one month to prove itself or collapse, time to get down to it. Much anticipated, Pokemon Go; it could be argued, is the first game to successfully implement augmented reality technology on a wide scale to say nothing of the use of mapping technology and geotracking to create an immersive real time experience that blurs the line between the game and the real world. I mention the technological side of this game in large part because of a common thread throughout human history. New technology and changes in mass behaviour are always met with scorn. That is certainly the case with Pokemon Go and the more than 100 million people currently playing. This isn't just a game, it's the second wind of the Pokemon phenomena and the reaction to it mirrors what happened with the first release of the card game.
Overwhelmingly the media reaction to this game and the people playing it has been negative. People have been called out in public all over the world, shouted at and threatened because they play a game. Earlier this week a player was shot and killed while playing at a tourist attraction in San Francisco but it is currently unknown if the attack was motivated by the game. Frankly, I'm sick of it, so here's the positives behind this game.
Make no mistake Nintendo was not doing well. They owned the handheld market by virtue of being in it unopposed (Sony? HA!) but that had a significant part of its market go over to mobile games thanks to the spread of cell phones and the ever advancing technology of Smartphones. The Wii market wasn't exactly stellar either. A failure to bring in 3rd party developers meant that whatever money was lost on a game not receiving widespread appeal was lost by Nintendo itself. Make no mistake, that money was lost time and again. Let's not forget that the WiiU's reception was lukewarm at best and the system hasn't nearly been the game changer Nintendo had hoped for. Then Pokemon Go releases in Japan, New Zeland and Australia. Overnight hundreds of thousands are playing the game and so many people globally are cheating their way in that servers were crashing on an hourly basis. June 6th to June 19th saw Nintendo's stock literally double in value and in its first month Pokemon Go has generation 200 million dollars in micro-transactions for its developer.
The same week Pokemon Go dropped internet forums were buzzing with people who excitedly shared stories about how they were meeting folks. Friends they had made at Pokestops or running together because there might be an Onix 2 blocks away. People are overcoming issues of depression, social anxiety and the struggles with living with Autism through this game. Literally millions of people are going outside, walking for kilometers in parks and neighbourhoods, seeing sights around their homes and towns and cities. It's inspiring that what is really a simple collection game has had such a massive impact for the good. Within 6 hours of Pokemon Go being released in Canada I had been invited into 4 different Facebook groups by friends wanting to get together to go hunt and to share in each other's adventures and frustrations. We take part in the friendly competition between the 3 factions and share jokes and memes that have sprung up around this game. Our parents wanted us to all go outside, get some exercise, see the world around us and make some friends in real life. Welp, mission accomplished.
Toronto is home to Sick Kid's Hospital, a world renown medical center specializing in treating children and researching the diseases that afflict them. A few days after the Canadian release of Pokemon Go I saw a message board entry of someone who suggested people set Lure Modules at the hospital's Go stops so that kids undergoing long term care would be able to take part. Hundreds of Torontonians thought this was an amazing idea, there was just one problem. Someone beat us all to it. Apparently, from day 1, people had been leaving lure modules without prompting. Doing a bit of research I found that this has been the case almost globally. Medical centers specializing in the treatment of children that have Go stops almost always have an active Lure throughout the day. Since then most of these hospitals have sent out statements thanking people for their kindness but requesting we stop since this was creating problems for the hospital staff which is fair. That said how beautiful is it that a global community did this without prompting simply because we all felt it was the right thing to do?
What's more is that many religious institutions and community centers have been using Pokemon Go as a means of bridge building. Businesses giving away free product and community organizations setting snack and drink tables for people adventuring are slowly changing the notions that certain groups are introverted or disconnected. I may not listen to the sermons of my local Church but my ideas and notions about that community only improve when they give me a water bottle on a hot day and wish me luck in finding a Pikachu. You are seeing across the globe how organizations and businesses that have embraced this phenomenon have benefitted whether by bringing in more traffic and sales for stores or by bringing greater crowds for community and fund raising events.
Because Pokestops are all areas of interest there is an immense amount of good that has been done through them. A few weeks ago I was in a San Francisco park and one of the Pokestops there was a sign warning about different kinds of venomous snakes and what to do if you encounter or are bitten by one. Brilliant. I've seen plaques and memorials just down the street from where I live that tell the story of the history of my home. Murals and small public works that would otherwise be overlooked in the urban sprawl of our cities are highlighted giving these art installations some much deserved attention. Does that mean that everyone will take the time to read these plaques? To appreciate these works? No, but many do. It's become a gameplay challenge that in order to make use of the Pokestop you need to interact with the actual stop. A historic restaurant? Eat there before you get your Pokeballs. A sculpture? Take the two minutes to experience it. The game is actively inviting people to learn and experience more of the places they live/travel in and I think that's beautiful.
The game itself is absolutely hilarious in the what it has inspired. The internet fell upon the three leaders of teams Valour, Mystic and Instinct and turned them into the very best meme fodder. Spark especially who has been made out to be a meme quoting but full hearted dabbing dude that everyone hates but wants to be friends with. People bemoaning and joking about low CP Pokemon refusing to be caught or the numerous glitches that aggrivate and entertain in equal measure. Who needs to hit on a 16 when I need to let the game restart to see if I really caught that Scyther? Those are pulse pounding moments!
I'm not saying that the naysayers don't have a point, they certainly do for the people that are taking things too far. Missing work or not sleeping because you really want an Onix is just stupid. Running across a busy road to get in range of a Dragonite spawn is stupid and dangerous. Spending a family dinner on your phone because the restaurant is a Gym is stupid. It's taking the game to an extreme and such things never end well. But it's no different than the people who played World of Warcraft until they passed away. It's no different than the people who bury themselves so deeply into fandoms they refuse to engage with people who aren't likeminded. It's no different from Marbles, Pogs, Pokemon Cards, Cabbage Patch Kids, Furby, the Pet Rock, helicopter parenting, Evangelical Veganism, etc. All things can be taken too far. The game actively reminds players to keep aware of their surroundings, not to trespass on private property, and as of the last update: not to play while driving. Will that stop everyone from doing dumb things? Of course not but how is that radically different from anything else?
Pokemon Go has made an enormous splash and time will tell if this is a flash in the pan or if this game will continue to have the epic level of impact it is currently enjoying. I wrote this article to balance the scales a bit. Yes there are people being damned fools but there are stories to lift the heart here that far outweigh the dumb and it's time we appreciated that.