Is Pokémon Go giving us a glimpse of a healthier happier future? 

A few weeks ago, the world divided into two groups:

  1. People addicted to chasing small fictional creatures around cities
  2. Luddites (like me) wondering what all the fuss is about.

Whichever group you belong to, there’s no denying the incredible success of Pokémon Go, at least in the short term.

This augmented reality game has spread across the globe faster than most pandemics with almost no promotion by its developers. It is an impressive modern testament to word-of-mouth marketing and demonstrates just how widely smartphones and tablets have infiltrated spread.

I’ve never played Pokémon Go but often ask players questions about it while I’m out walking. (Does that make me a Pokémon Go groupie?)

What strikes me is the fact that technology and nature are no longer diametrically opposed. After so much talk about technology being the enemy and a prime reason why kids aren’t spending time getting regular doses of ‘Vitamin N’, it has now turned out to be a hero in this regard.

Players of all shapes, sizes and ages are roaming about looking for invisible digital creatures. They include families, dog-walkers, pram-pushers, and hordes of teenagers.

This has proven to be a real boon for getting people out exercising and socialising. While the players are walking around, their virtual characters are exercising in gyms, catching Pokemons, and battling other teams.

I’ve never before seen so many people sitting by the lake outside our local library from early morning until late at night. (I assume it is a Pokéstop — a place of interest where you can score Pokémon Go loot, snacks or medicine.)

There is even anecdotal evidence that this intriguing app is having a positive impact on people’s mental health.

Presumably it’s also providing some of the benefits offered by other games, such as hand-eye coordination, strategising and team work.

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This app really seems to have hit a sweet spot between technology, nature, and physical and mental health.

If it could do the dishes as well, Nintendo and Niantic Labs would have invented the perfect all-encompassing app and I might’ve been forced to give it a go.

At the moment it’s just harmless escapism, providing temporary respite from our stressful unhealthy lifestyles and depressing news feeds. But who knows how long it will be before there are Pokémon Go Anonymous groups popping up everywhere and psychiatrists treating patients who keep seeing imaginary creatures even when they’re not playing the game?

Despite an upsurge in positive and constructive stories (e.g. here), the media haven’t missed the opportunity to run stories about evil people luring unsuspecting Pokémon Go players into secluded areas in order to rob them or steal their phones.

They are also warning of potential security breaches due to access and permissions that were initially too broad and encouraging players to stay alert so that they don’t inadvertently step in front of cars, walk off cliffs, or stumble into bikie gang headquarters.

In addition, requests have been made to remove Pokéstops and gyms from unsuitable locations, such as private homes and a nuclear power plant.

Given that safety is an important issue, it is reassuring to find that players seem to be looking out for each other. One couple told me in a concerned tone that they had just come across a ten year old on the other side of the lake on his own.

Some sites have issued tips on how to stay safe while playing the app, including advice about being sun-safe and staying hydrated (or rugging up, as the case may be in Canberra). I wonder if any governments have started running campaigns yet about not driving while you play Pokémon Go?

Collaboration appears to have gone beyond the immediate teams, with some players pooling their knowledge to hunt down elusive creatures such as Pikachu as they move through the levels. (Hopefully this yellow electric mouse was not making a racket in my ceiling recently or it may have been hit with a dose of virtual Ratsak and be even harder to find.)

I like the fact that players don’t have to be ultra-competitive at the expense of other players. This is because there are meant to be more than enough Pokemons to go around.

When someone first mentioned ‘spawning’ to me, I assumed that the creatures were laying masses of eggs and breeding like virtual rabbits. I have since been informed that this is not the case and have yet to discover what it does mean.

Do we know enough about how these creatures reproduce and how many it takes to maintain a viable population? What if they try to take over the world? Or the world supply of Pokemons eventually reaches its limit and they become scarce? Humans are pretty good at pretending that water, oil, trees and other resources are infinite. It would be a tragedy if Peak Pokemon ended up triggering World War 3.

Other forms of human Pokemon exploitation have already emerged — some with noble intentions and others with the age-old goal of making money.

For example, I’ve seen blog posts by librarians suggesting ways that libraries can use this app as a way to entice potential readers inside and get them reading.

Landscape architects have also written about the need to design public spaces that accommodate ever-evolving recreation preferences and to be more aware of pedestrian safety (presumably when visitors are walking around with their eyes glued to a phone screen).

Given that this app is free to download, I was somewhat shocked disappointed surprised to learn that Pokemon Go is already making millions for companies like Apple.

People I have spoken to tell me that it’s not necessary to spend money on buying incense, potions and other tools. However, no-one has any idea what will happen later on and as players move further up the scale.

Either way, the bulk purchase of PokéCoins for 99 cents is minuscule compared with the large sums that many of us pay for our real gym memberships (that we never hardly ever use).

And we can’t really complain about retailers profiteering from sales of portable phone charger packs since this game launched. (Apparently the app eats through batteries faster than the mice chewed through my dishwasher power cord. As a result, some sites offer tips on how to minimise power usage.)

It’s inevitable that businesses like McDonald’s would want to host Pokémon Go events and run special promotions. But what next? Is there a chance that profit-driven interests will ultimately kill the Pokémon Go experience?

Will social media networks be content to simply have players share selfies with creatures on their platforms? Or might companies like Facebook try to muscle in on the action and plaster the landscape with virtual billboards and other advertisements?

And how long will this Pokémon Go craze last?

Even though I haven’t yet jumped on the Pokemon bandwagon, I was pleased to read that author and social media commentator Kristen Lamb (here) believes uptake of this app represents a backlash against the domination of the Internet by companies like Facebook and may signal the transition to the next digital revolution (Web 3.0).*

If it turns out to be only a fad, then Facebook and other social media platforms will no doubt welcome back prodigal players with open arms — as will the unaugmented version of nature, minus the real creatures that we’ve managed to make extinct while everyone was distracted.

But spare a thought for the natural and urban areas that will lose some of the charm afforded by these fictional creatures. They may never again be the same.

And that’s exciting. These spaces may never be the same again either way — but especially if Kristen is right about Pokémon Go being only the first of many augmented reality games to come.

* ‘Is Facebook dying? What’s killing it?’ Posted at Kristen Lamb’s Blog on 22 July 2016. Kristen Lamb is the author of Rise of the Machines—Human Authors of the Digital Age.



Categories: Social, Social media, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Best way to get the look and feel of the Pokemon Go experience – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTH8ENZybCQ – it’s time to try it out Pip! Another great post.

    • Thanks Clyde. Interesting video but doesn’t make me want to try it out. Mentions another obvious money-making aspect of the game – merchandising. I love the ‘Doduo’ two-headed dodo. Pleased to learn that this extinct bird had evolved and lives on. 😊

  2. It seems every time humans create something we have to ruin it with greed and out of control egos. I hope Pokemon is an exception and that people can enjoy it for a long time. I don’t feel compelled to try it, I already have many rewarding interests, among them walking, but you have satisfied some of my curiosity for the moment. Thank you Pip.

  3. Excellent article Pip, thank you!

  4. Well, it IS nice that it’s virtual, so we’ll never have discarded Pokemon critters clogging up the landfill. I’m not much into games, but like you, I think it’s good that it’s getting people outside. I read recently that some places have asked to be removed – Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, for example. — But, staring at my phone –nah. I think I’ll wait for google-glass or maybe for a chip.

    • Interesting re Arlington & the Holocaust Museum. I mentioned them to some Pokemon Goers & they said the objection was at least partly because of the type of critter at the Museum. Apparently its weapon involved gas. It may have just been randomly allocated to that place of interest but even so…

  5. I wish you could be over here and play pokemon with Luca. He’s mad about it and would love to give you a tutorial. It is working wondersnin getting him out and about and always wanting to walk that bit further or visit new places, just in case there’s another pokemon round the corner. So it gets a big thumbs up from me!
    And I think you got the nail on the head with how they manage to make money – it’s gradually causing our house to fill up with pokemon manga cartoon books and plush toys as well!

    • Pleased to hear that someone is still out there hunting Pokemons. Seems to be only a few diehards doing it here now. No doubt there are lots of people working on developing the next big augmented reality game though…

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