On a slightly humid, overcast Thursday afternoon I decide to download the app everyone's been talking about: Pokemon Go. It appears this game has taken over America, Australia and New Zealand, sweeping social media, Youtube and apparently every news outlet available, both on a local, national and now international level. And I'm determined to find out why!
I've been checking to see its availability in the UK every day now for the past few days and finally it's been released! Once I've filled in an appropriate name and modified my character, from having a red backpack, to well, a black backpack instead (character modifications clearly isn't its strong suit), I'm ready to start catching all em' Pokémon!
As with pretty much every slightly cautious player out there I'm a little cynical when playing the app for the first time. However, I'm immediately hypnotised by its spell. I step into the vortex of Pokémon Go willingly as I'm guaranteed, in true Pokémon fashion, that I'll find my first Pokémon immediately, with the choice of a Squirtle, Charmander or Bulbasaur. However, this time's different. This time it's special. This time I have the opportunity to catch it in my very own home! And alas; a Squirtle appears to be standing right there in my living room! And there you have it, before a single Pokéball has been cast, the spell has been cast! My dream has become a reality! Pokémon finally exist, and they're right there in front of me!
Pokémon Go Get Some Exercise Already
So what is the next step in Niantic's grand master plan to get all us nerds out of our basements? Well anyone who's played Pokémon in the past knows that you need pokéballs in order to catch Pokémon! And to get pokéballs you need to find a Pokéstop. But there's a catch, you can only find Pokéstops outside! As with many people who have downloaded the app, my nearest Pokéstop is conveniently located right next to my local park. So by the time I've reached the Pokéstop, it's easier and more convenient to walk into the park where all the Pokémon are hiding than tropes all the way back home. The further into the park I go, the better the Pokémon I'lll find. So this means you'll be richly rewarded for climbing up hills, scouring tiny back-lanes and checking any passages you can find. As a result the amount of fresh air and exercise the average player, myself included, may get in the process is pretty credible.
In fact if you count the number of people downloading this app, and the type of people that stereotypically play video games, i.e. not the healthiest of the world's citizens, what Niantic has achieved is pretty impressive. It's also quite ironic, given that it was video games like Pokémon that stopped kids from going outside and getting into a habit of exercise in the first place. Any way, any government who came up with a strategy as ingenious and effective as Pokémon Go in helping encourage young people to get more exercise would be, well, non-existent. Since it's release, in America alone Pokémon Go has proven more popular than Tinder, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat! That is a lot of people getting out of their homes and offices and going out and getting some exercise. The app is also being used an average of 43 minutes a day. That's almost an hours extra exercise every player is likely to be getting a day! With many states in the developed world realising that the cheapest way to keeping it's citizens healthy is through prevention not treatment, Pokémon Go must be viewed as a God send. No other mobile-based interactive game has done this so successfully before, so it's pretty important!
Pokémon Go and Interact With A Bunch of Strangers Who You'll Potentially Get to Know for a Life-Time!
After chasing down a few Pokéstops on the apps GPS map I finally stumble on my first wild Pokémon! The phone vibrates and it appears on my map as if out of nowhere! A Jynx! After a few cracks at the swiping motion needed to catch it I finally succeed. The dopamine is released and the satisfaction clenched! I look around at the random strangers walking past completely unaware of the obsession that has grabbed me.
I turn the corner into the main social area of the park and find a picture I had seen a thousand times on social media. Dozens of like-minded nerds huddled together staring down at their phones and swiping vigorously. I finally get a shot of what I must look like to those strangers I'd seen on the way. But I don't care. After re-starting the app, (having crashed on me twice now), I naturally take up my place in the huddle of nerds. This time it's a Drowzee we're all trying to catch, later it'll be a Rhyhorn. But soon on second inspection I realise that not everyone is as stereotypical as you might imagine. The group is filled with kids, teenagers, young people and thirty somethings. It's also filled with both male and females and a wide array of races.
Whilst unfortunately it shouldn't be, in this day and age where our differences, not our similarities are focused on, it's rare to see a group of people so diverse as this one. In a political climate where Brexit is still so fresh and hate crime is on the rise, people even in places as liberal as London have begun to look at one another with suspicion and caution. Similar themes can be seen in America with the rise of racial tensions having their own sting in light of recent events. As such a game that brings people effectively closer together and encourages everyone to focus on what they have in common - an obsession for Pokémon - is again an extremely impressive feat that Pokémon Go has achieved, especially in times like this.
After doing the rounds and stopping off at a few more pokéstops I finally decide to go back home and get back to work. In the end I've racked up pretty close to the player average of 47 minutes of play. In total I've caught about 15 Pokémon including a Magikarp, a Psyduck a Spearow and a bunch more Drowzee's. So let's just say I have a way to go. What's impressed me more however is the positive impact it appears to be having on users. Everywhere I went I ended up interacting with a wide arrange of people all sharing their love for the nostalgia they felt during childhood. It also got me out of the house for an extra hour I otherwise wouldn't have. It may just be a stupid game we've downloaded on our smartphones, but it's our stupid game. In a world where there are few governments that can break down race, class, and gender divisions so effectively, and get a large lump of it's population to get out an exercise, let alone any other game I've played in recent memory, the importance of this game shouldn't be under-estimated.