I’m not playing Pokemon Go. I don’t have a cellphone full of Pokemon because, well, I don’t own a cellphone.
Though I should really say that I am not playing Pokemon Go directly. Instead, I have been tagging along on Pokehunts for the past couple of days. However, I think that in some way that still makes me a participant because the game is not merely the game, the virtual part, the digital part. Much of the game is what occurs around the game, physically, socially, and economically.
I don’t know how long the Pokemon Go craze will go on, but if it has any real long term roots, it could serve as part of a solution to the obesity epidemic in the US. People are really out and about right now, taking long walks alone and in packs, biking and skateboarding.
Pokemon Go also seems a boon just in terms of strangers socializing. While players are looking at cellphone screens an awful lot, they are still acknowledging people around them, asking advice about how to battle at a gym, asking what team other players are on, and directing others towards the area that they just found a Geodude in.
I spent Monday evening in the downtown area of my small college town. People were walking the few blocks of the three streets that make up that area. They were gathered in the central square where a number of hot spots were and where others had planted Lure Modules that draw large groups of Pokemon for everyone in the area.
While advising a group of the location of a Fearow that my wife had just found in an alleyway, one girl told me about the epic battle that her friend, who had only had two pokeballs left had just fought to capture a higher level (300+ CP) Vulpix that she caught with that second ball.
A 14 year-old-boy stopped to explain passionately why the philosophy underpinning the blue Mystic team was far superior to the “feels” philosophy of the yellow Instinct team. “Catching Pokemon with your feelings is… is… so stupid!”, he scoffed. He was ready and willing to take on all debaters.
We ran into a friend of my oldest daughter, who we hadn’t seen in about a year, and he told us about a Venomouth that he had thrown Pokeballs at for three blocks while walking home from work. He finally captured it right before he got home to his apartment.
My wife caught a Slowpoke and a Koffing in the downtown square, while two of my daughters and I went to buy sandwiches to bring back at a local sandwich shop a block away. My 17 year-old daughter caught three or four common Pokemon in a row as she waited while I ordered at a table in the place. She took a picture of a Spearow perched on my 14-year-old daughter’s finger before we got our sandwiches.
People are out and about, chatting with their friends and with complete strangers. They’re spending money at local businesses while out on their Pokeadventures.
My wife witnessed what she felt was a Pokeromance in the making as a purple haired girl made eyes at a nerdy guy in a group of Pokehunters. She flipped her hair as she explained to him that she hadn’t brought her phone but maybe she could “just walk with you guys?” The guy who had responded with some uncertainty at first grinned, “Sure. That’d be great!”
I don’t know what kind of legs the Pokemon Go phenomenon has, but I am hoping that it at least lasts until September. The university where I work, which is within walking distance of my house and has tons of hotspots and three Pokemon gyms on it, is also hopping right now. However, I think that this phenomenon might be a great thing for general sociability and getting familiar with the campus for incoming freshmen and transfer students.
The whole experience seems especially powerful for a Millenial audience, those who grew up with ubiquitous cellphones and internet and the Pokemon properties. I’m a little old to feel any nostalgia for Pokemon generally. As far as I am concerned it was a show that my oldest daughter watched when she was a kid, little else. However, the game captures what I think is the bare bones concept of the video games and the show, exploring the world while catching unique and fantastic creatures. It’s a neat way of overlaying nostalgia on the real and present world, and it’s a neat way of getting people out of doors to meet and socialize with others who share that powerful nostalgia with one another.