It’s been less than a month since PokemonGo was unleashed on an unsuspecting real world, and it’s already taken over in that time. Chances are, every time you go to the grocery store, take the dog for a walk or pick up a prescription, someone lurks in the toiletry aisle, stalking a Bulbasaur sleeping on the Dove bars.
But just like slap bracelets, heavy metal and video games at large, there’s a growing population labelling those playing as ‘mindless zombies’ and citing the many dangers of the game. From reports of muggings due to lures placed by thieves in the know to the game compounding existing issues like texting while driving or simply texting-while-completely-unaware-of-one’s-surroundings, people lament PokemonGo as just another app keeping our noses buried in the phone.
At the same time, there are many testimonials out there on the internet praising the game for getting people out of their houses and into the real world. Some say the game helped them overcome social anxiety by creating a common thread of interest between people who would otherwise be strangers, with some people reporting that their autistic children are socializing where they otherwise wouldn’t. So is it a pox upon the land or a fun, welcome distraction that reminds many of their youth?
In truth, what this phenomenon boils down to is Niantic (parent company Google) taking advantage of a good idea at the right time using a franchise that was a huge part of many people’s childhoods. PokemonGo doesn’t so much represent an entirely new type of gaming as an interesting mashup of old ideas and a complex, colorful world. It’s virtual geocaching. There are many examples of these types of games out there, though none quite as popular, and in fact, Niantic has had its own success in the augmented reality arena with Ingress, the PokemonGo predecessor in which players join forces to gain territory and mind units. It too uses GPS tracking and landmarks and has an almost cult-like following. PokemonGo seems like the natural progression, then.
I’ve got the app installed, and consistent server crashes aside, it’s an amusing distraction. Like any hobby, all the way back to shooting dice, playing jacks or good ol’ kickball, it can take up too much of one’s time, or become an obsession. Like much in the digital age, if you don’t use common sense and take proper precautions (like heading out in groups, making sure people know where you are and when you’ll be back, for example), there are dangers. But I’ve found it a fun talking point with people a few years younger than me who were all about Pokemon, a nice little aside when waiting in lines or grabbing groceries, and a fun way to motivate me to explore even my own area just that much more. Some people play Farmville. Some Candy Crush. Some watch TV or play video games. My take on it is this: Spend your downtime how you want to spend it. Be safe, be kind and have fun. And if you want to catch ’em all, then I wish you happy hunting.