Pokémon Go: sad reality or inventive technology?

Image from http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2015/09/10/the-red-flags-of-pokemon-go/#585a376c54a3

Pokémon Go is the most recent mobile sensation to take the world by storm. In less than a fortnight, the game had infiltrated ANU Stalkerspace, overtaken Twitter for daily users, and increased Nintendo’s market value by more than $10 billion. It’s a phenomenon.

If you somehow missed out on this new virtual reality game and are not sure what the hype is about, let me give you some background. In 1996, Nintendo released their first two games in the Pokémon series to their Japanese audience. Their unexpected success lead to another seven installations, a nineteen-season-long cartoon series, a collection of movies, and a generational pop culture which has been dominating now for two decades and counting. Recently, Nintendo partnered up with Niantic – a gaming developer whose 2013 Ingress game requires real-world interactivity – to release Pokémon Go, thus combining the popular franchise with Ingress’s uniquely interactive game style.

Unlike a typical video game, Pokémon Go requires you to go outside to play. Locations in the games are based on real world places, with public spaces featuring as places to catch Pokémon. Libraries, shops and cafes began inviting players in. Nature trails, walks and picnics became an avenue for playing, just as playing became an avenue for engaging with nature. As players discovered more of how the game worked, they went further afield to see, catch and hatch different Pokémon, visiting places not typically ventured for the sole purpose of playing Pokémon Go.

Is it a “sad reality” that we live in a world where people need a video game and internet connection to want to go outside? Has a game composed of ones and zeros and pixels come to incentivise the simple act of leaving the house?

In a world where Facebook updates, five second vines, tags in cat videos and a Fear Of Missing Out rule our waking hours, it is no surprise our free time disappears into online media. These items add no real substance or value to our day, yet, like a gambling addict on a Pokér machine, we pull out our phones and refresh our Facebook feed to see what is on the cards for today. When we live in such a reality, something that can keep us occupied in a productive manner should be treasured, no matter what medium it comes to us in.

As Pokémon Go gained traction, stories emerged of players interacting in the real world, working together to take on in-game challenges as a team, and sharing tips and tricks of the Pokémon trade. A suggestion taken up by local and international news alike, is that Pokémon Go helps people tackle social anxiety and depression. By introducing a shared interest, meeting new people becomes easier, meanwhile, the physical exercise and simple act of going outside may support a better mental state.

All in all, the broad effects of Pokémon Go may be fantastically positive.

Personally, I appreciate both sides of the argument. I like how Pokémon Go has encouraged people to go out and enjoy nature, but I also feel the game could, and should, do more. As players’ knowledge of the game and the local area grows, they become increasingly sedentary, going to one optimal spot and staying there. Initial consumer hopes for the game, and Pokémon Go marketing, suggested a diversity of habitats to explore. One might hope secluded areas like mountains, parks or forests would all feature in gameplay. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: the more secluded an area the less of a chance of finding anything at all. I hope future developments will reward those who go out of their way to go to National Parks, or other such isolated areas, thus rewarding those who interact with nature further.

The proof is in our hands: technology can be a driving force for good in our lives. It can be an aid to help us with day to day tasks, as well as an incentive to get out and enjoy our world. The only question now, is will more developers try to get on board with these possibly life-changing opportunities? Or are we doomed to a focus on sedentary clicks and ad revenue?

Image from http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2015/09/10/the-red-flags-of-pokemon-go/#585a376c54a3

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