‘Get up and go! Catch Pokémon in the real world with Pokémon GO!’ is the message from the world’s latest phenomenon, and over the past week there has been constant anecdotal evidence of people doing exactly that.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game which uses smart phone cameras to give a live view of the world around us which is altered by computer-generated sensory input – in this case allowing Pokémon characters, previous childhood favourites from Nintendo games, comics, cartoons, and trading cards, to appear all around us, in houses, schools and public parks.
The game has quickly become a hit. Just one day after being launched in America it had been downloaded onto more than 5 percent of the total number of android phones in the country (by comparison, Tinder is active on only two percent). One man has even quite his job to become a full time ‘Pokémon hunter’, and the game has taken over social media. There were 15.3 million tweets about Pokémon Go within its first week, compared to only 11.7 million tweets concerning Brexit in the week of the UK referendum, and a mere 7.5 million tweets about Euro 2016 in the first week of the championships.
Businesses have already started trying to use the craze to their advantage. Places that exist as ‘Pokestops’ have reported an increase in customers, while the game currently offers purchases such as ‘Lures’, a feature which generates an increased number of Pokémon in an area, and which business owners may use to attract Pokémon-craving customers. Elsewhere, Manchester’s fire and rescue service have playfully tweeted the ‘unconfirmed rumour’ that testing your smoke alarm can spawn extra Pokémon; while there has also been occasional complaints and controversy over the game colliding with the real world, with the US Holocaust memorial museum having to ask people to refrain from playing the game on the sight, claiming it to be ‘extremely inappropriate.’
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With the massive numbers playing the game, a primary benefit of Pokémon Go is apparently that it gets people outside, and interacting with the environment, and even the people around them. Players have reported interactions with strangers that were as pleasant as they are rare, but football fans or people with other, more traditional, interactive hobbies will have had plenty of these interactions of their own over the years. Likewise, there are better reasons to visit Buckingham Palace or central park than the possibility of finding a Snorlax or Megatross in the vicinity; and while the game might lead to inadvertent exercise – it has even been suggested that it could be the answer to America’s obesity crisis – we shouldn’t need the lure of Pikachu to get us out into the fresh air and stretching our legs.
Yet this is the depiction of Pokemon Go that we are presented with. A New York times interview saw one player admit he was addicted to the game – though he claimed to have some self-control; ‘I will stop playing for specific reasons, like to eat or to sleep’ – and another give further life to the idea that Pokémon Go is a rare reason to explore the great outdoors again, saying: ‘you can use this to, like, go outside.’
For now, these are the strange afflictions that Pokemon Go has caused. But while the game will in all likelihood remain a fad, disappearing as quickly as it arrived, it’s lasting legacy has the potential to be more beneficial. Hopefully when the craze is over, it will have served as a more long term reminder that even if roaming the streets in search of Pokemon will not always feel like a worthwhile venture, exercise, fresh air, and interactive activities are always worth pursuing.