By now, most people throughout the US are aware of the insane revived popularity of 90's video game/anime sensation Pokemon due to the release of the smartphone app, Pokemon Go. You can't step out your front door without seeing people awkwardly pausing in the middle of a sidewalk wiggling their phone screens at seemingly uninteresting objects or scenes. Many of you have probably already tried playing it yourself, and if you're on the other side of the fence, then perhaps scratching your head in confusion as to why this game is so captivating.
The day it came out I went ahead and downloaded as my boyfriend has been anticipating Pokemon GO since its official announcement in September 2015. Already I have very mixed feelings about the game, least of which has to do with the actual game itself, and more to do with its impact on both the physical and economical environment, as well as society as a whole. Due to all these mixed thoughts, I've gone ahead and compiled a list of pros and cons:
1. Friendship for Everyone
What a strange and wonderful time we live in. I can't help thinking that this silly game could become a great uniter of humanity. As people wander the street (or forest) people occasionally take their eyes off the screen to look around for others in their area that are also actively searching for Pokemon. When spotted, said people will often exchange a few words to discuss where a nearby area for Pokemon or loot happens to be. People who would never have exchanged any words are suddenly a friendly face.
I was in Oregon with family when the game came out and being on a coast town, there wasn't as much visible interest in the game probably due to the lack of good reception. My boyfriend however informed me of how popular it instantly became in Bellingham, mentioning how strolling through a local park he noticed two families that probably never would have spoken to each other were bonding both with their families and with each other's family's interest in the game. Two fathers, one looking like a typical American nuclear family stereotype and the other, with a tattooed Cholo look, were talking to each other about the game, their kids and where to find a certain Pokemon. While I doubt they exchanged phone numbers, my boyfriend found it nice that two people who perhaps wouldn't have spoken to each other before or maybe even would have avoided it, were able to find common ground.
2. Safety in Numbers
The day after I got back from my trip in Oregon, I was able to experience first hand the social aspect mentioned above. As I was heading to the post office to pick up a package, I decided that since my boyfriend was with me, it would be safe to walk through a trail that normally I would be afraid to walk alone, due unfortunately to unsavory recent activities. While the walk was partly motivated by a desire to collect goodies at some Pokestops, I also just wanted to enjoy a walk through this beautiful trail that has a creek with a small waterfall running alongside. I spotted about 6-8 people obviously playing, and as I enjoyed the view of the creek, a guy rolling by on his bike stopped to ask if my boyfriend and I were there playing Pokemon Go. A short exchange had us discussing how although he's not playing the game, he has been enjoying the level of excitement players have been sharing together. I commented how the trail we were on would never have so many people to which he joked that it's called the "stabbin' trail" for a reason because of the level of homeless people and drug addicts that live in the park attached to it. This brings me to my next point.
The Pokemon GO app is allowing more people to explore the area in which they live, occupying previously rarely visited areas. More "safe" people in an area makes more people feel comfortable visiting it. While I'm not a particular fan of gentrification in that it often only benefits those who already have money, I am open to the fact that a beautiful park near my house might actually become less scary due to more visitors. This fact reminded me a lot of my stay in Japan and the fact that Japan is known for being one of the safest countries in the world. I never would have stayed in Japan alone for 3 weeks if I didn't feel like it was ridiculously safe. While a huge reason Japan is safe is due to the fact that it was demilitarized and very few people can legally possess guns, as well as the strict prison conditions that deter would-be criminals, I think it is also likely that the huge amounts of people as well as high respect for each other is a major role in the safety. When there are more law-abiding citizens in an area to bear witness to potential crimes, would-be lawbreakers are much less likely to do anything unsavory.
That's not to say people shouldn't still be aware of their surroundings, but one side-effect of this game I am hoping for is that more area use of player will make places safer for players and non-players alike.
3. A Sudden Interest in Environment
Without a doubt, Nintendo wanted to encourage a level of wonder not only in video games, but in the natural world. As a Japanese company, Nintendo has always sought to improve the lives of players through entertainment, health, and lifestyle. Furthermore, in Japanese culture an appreciation of the beauty of the surrounding world is always near to the heart. A wonderful aspect of Pokemon Go is that people are beginning to discover things about their hometowns that perhaps they wouldn't have ever batted an eyelash at before. I've lived in downtown Bellingham for 3 years, and since the game was released I've learned about of the landmarks I never knew existed or never paid any mind to until Pokemon Go pointed them out to me as a Pokestop. On my boyfriend's days off from work I enjoy going on walks around town. Because he wanted to find some pokemon that weren't in the downtown area, he suggested we go to a secluded statue garden stashed away in a neighborhood. I've lived in Bellingham for nearly 8 years and I had never even known of its existence and I don't think he would have ever mentioned it to me had it not been for this game. There were a handful of people at the statue garden that I doubt would be walking around there had it not been for the game as well.
Undoubtedly, I am not the only person who is experiencing new things in their town for the first time, and it opens up so many opportunities to learn more than you would have before at other places you might want to visit.
4. Business Opportunities
Nintendo is no fool when it comes to marketing and the Pokemon franchise is about to GO even bigger than it already has with all the card games, video games, plushies, apparel, and other nerdy memoribilia that the franchise has pumped out in the last 20 years. Nintendo has already sold out of accompanying device, Pokemon Go Plus, which is set to release later this month. The device retails for $34.99 and will allow players to send captured pokemon data to their phone without using the battery-sucking GPS.
I predict Nintendo and Niantic aren't the only companies that will benefit from the app, however. In just one week many local businesses are seeing a huge increase in foot traffic, therefore taking the opportunity to boost their business with lures. Lures are an aspect of the game where someone can place a lure in order to bring players to a specific place to catch more pokemon and get more essential goodies for the game. While lures are an in-app purchasable item, if businesses are able to convert passerbys into actual customers, then the cost of Pokecoins will be well worth the investment. Businesses I don't see this working so great for are retail shop owners since actually shopping would take your attention from playing a game. However, I can definitely foresee purchasing lures as a benefit for places where people would want to sit down and relax, like a bar or restaurant.
Besides local businesses, the cellphone, cellphone accessory and service provider industries are the most likely to benefit from the release of Pokemon GO. Because the app eats up a lot of battery life rather quickly, I feel certain that in the next few weeks a ton of cell phone businesses will be ordering a lot of extra portable backup chargers. Also, as the average cell phone users have limited data plans, I have a feeling a lot of people are going to start looking into how much it costs to have unlimited data which will prompt a lot of service providers to offer more deals to convert into sales. I'm not a T-mobile customer, but if you're one of those looking for unlimited data for Pokemon GO, apparently T-Mobile will be offering free data usage for players, plus a free frosty. Score!
The release of Pokemon GO alone has a friend of mine who has for so long refused to get a smartphone to consider finally buying one just so he can play the game. If that's not conversion, I don't know what is.
Other businesses that will reap the rewards of this game include artists being commissioned to do fan art, graphic designers (don't think for a moment I'm not considering how I can use this to my advantage), and probably even tourism. People already pay millions each year to have someone tell show them world heritage sites, statues, graveyards, historical markers, restaurants, and more. Why wouldn't people want to know where a rare pokemon is, especially if it's nestled somewhere they're already vacationing?
Finally, if you're an investor, now might be the time to fork over your hard-earned cash for stock in Nintendo and Niantic. Just in the last week, Nintendo's stocks have risen 9% and Niantic has increased by 30%, which according to my boyfriend, is monumental in the world of finance.
As we discuss the the financial benefit that cellphone companies have from the sudden need to play Pokemon GO, we also need to consider that the companies that produce the technology for cellphones will be put under pressure to create a better product, which always benefits the users. Best-known smartphone companies such as Apple and Samsung are probably already figuring out how to make the battery last longer and will be working to release the latest and greatest new phones in just a matter of time.
Again, as the app is a battery eater due to the constant use of GPS to play the game, Niantic, the company that developed the game will need to continue to improve the app to ideally have it use less battery, or offer the ability for users to toggle between use of GPS. As the game begins to include a fighting system, perhaps players can choose not to use GPS while in battle. Servers will also need to be improved because as it stands, the game crashes a lot at log in. Truth be told, the game has a lot of improvement to be made, but I still applaud the efforts put forth so far to create this game.
6. Physical Health Through Exercise
All over the internet, people are having a poke at the fact that our government couldn't get people to stop being lazy ever, and suddenly Nintendo/Niantic release Pokemon GO and people can't seem to stop exercising as a side effect of the game. All joking aside, perhaps the greatest part of this game is that more and more people are getting off their butts and moving their bodies around to play this game. Although I don't think people will suddenly be shedding off all the excess pounds on their body, it does encourage more movement that people might otherwise ignore. While walking at a local beach with my friend (who doesn't play the game), we discussed that while its somewhat shocking to see so many people on their smartphones more than ever before, the fact is those people were probably always on their phones, just in the confines of their homes or office. Instead of playing games like Candy Crush on their lunch breaks or while lazily waiting for time to pass, people are walking around outside in order to play the games. In my experience so far, the game is more or less useless when inside because you can't really discover any Pokestops or Pokemon from inside. You have to be walking around in designated places to catch them.
Another aspect of the game offers pokemon you can hatch from an egg. In order to hatch the egg you are required to walk a set amount of distance. I've tested it out to see if it gauges distance travel on GPS distance or from the built-in smart phone pedometer. Driving around with the app active and checking it upon arrival to a destination has proven that the game relies on actual physical steps to "hatch" the pokemon. Most eggs require about 2-10km to hatch, which is far more walking around than most people would do in week if they weren't already active people. In a society that values weight loss, this is a great motivator for people who struggle with the venture, most often due to the boredom of going to the gym. But weight loss is not the only reason exercise is so important.
One only has to visit WebMD to find out about the huge array of physical conditions that affect people. Though not prescribed as a medication or aide, Pokemon GO has the potential to offer a low-stress, low impact game that encourages movement. Not constrained to daylight hours, the game can be played at night by those who want to exercise, but need to avoid sunlight due to albinism, allergies, or even as a side effect of antibiotics or anxiety drugs like doxapine. Furthermore, the gym is not always a practical option for people with varicose veins, or similar conditions, as it can be a struggle to find low-impact exercises necessary to increase blood flow.
Also, while I haven't seen any data yet, I would bet that some people's livers are going to be thanking them. While walking around downtown where I live, I noticed more people standing around popular haunts playing. While they are probably going out to drink, I'm sure some of them are enjoying not drinking just as much. Once I reached the age of 21, I began to notice a lot of my friends/co-workers complain that they would love to do more than just go out to bars and drink, but that drinking is one of the only common interests that can be done after a day at work, or that bars are the only place to meet people. Pokemon GO offers an alternative activity for people of all ages to enjoy without damaging their livers.
7. Social anxiety + Mental Health
Physical health is not the only benefit of the game, however, and it is important to note that many of the people participating in playing Pokemon Go are people that experience debilitating conditions like social anxiety and depression. I know a handful of peers that have spent years, if not their whole lives, struggling with these issues. I was amazed and so happy to see a Facebook friend's anecdote mentioning how for years, despite a desire to spend time with people, it had been hard for her to get herself to leave the house due to her social anxiety. Since the release of Pokemon GO, she had felt encouraged by a goal to "catch 'em all" to get out, and within the first two days she had clocked 13 km of walking, both alone and with others.
It should be noted that the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, has been said to have Asperger's, a form of autism. In a country like Japan, and even in the world, it can be incredibly difficult to be understood and to find sympathy for having conditions that are considered abnormal, weird, or different. Although mental health awareness is being spread more and more these days, it doesn't mean that it is an easy thing to deal with. Tajiri, with his brilliantly creative mind, however, managed to create one of the most beloved games to ever exist that appeals to all audiences, regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, physical or mental conditions. What a beautiful thing!
8. Acceptance of Nerd Culture
The angsty teenager that wants to be the only one who likes some subcultural thing is so angry that so many people have adopted such a nerdy thing into their lives as a "normal" thing. The actual nerd in me is pretty stoked on the fact that I don't have to be embarassed to admit I like something like Pokemon. I'm by no means a hardcore fan of Pokemon and arguably only ever liked it because of the cute characters. I am however a huge fan of sci-fi movies and books, Sailor Moon, Studio Ghibli, and share a higher than average knowledge of anime, Marvel comics, and Star Wars. This aspect of my personality I learned to keep hidden as a middle schooler because it was "uncool" to like such things. I never stopped liking those things, but I didn't go around spreading the word either.
I do think that popular culture has done a good job of adopting things once deemed "nerdy" if for no other reason than having commercial products to sell. It has only been in the last few years that I felt comfortable allowing my friends to see the nerdier aspect of myself. Although bullying will perhaps never cease, I am sure that a lot of "closeted" nerds are feeling safer to come out of the woodwork and openly proclaim their nerdom. And anything that allows people to be true to themselves is A-Ok in my book.
I know I started out my Pros with safety in numbers being a positive thing, but safety is also a major negative concern. Although the game issues a warning on load up to always be aware of your surroundings, most people don't seem to take that advice to heart. I've seen people stop in the middle of the sidewalk, causing someone behind them to bump into them, or even in the street, which is a danger to themselves and traffic. Just like texting and driving is an issue, so too is Pokemon and Driving. I'm pretty sure that the amount of cops I've seen patrolling the city is in direct correlation to the amount of drivers foolishly trying to Poke & Drive. The game is meant to be played while walking, but some people are taking the opportunity to hit up as many Pokestops while they drive, paying more attention to their phones than the road.
Another safety concern is the issue of lures. While I don't think it is going to lead to too many crimes, already people have been arrested for robbing unsuspecting players by setting Pokemon lures. A group of robbers set a lure that literally lured their victims to a secluded location where they would then mug the person. There is also the possibility for worse crimes which is why it is encouraged that if you are planning on visiting a lure, that you go to lures that you know are in safe, highly populated areas or don't go alone.
2. Lack of Actual Awareness of Surroundings
Tied alongside with safety comes the awareness of users, or the lack thereof. I've already covered safety, however, so let's move onto an actual awareness of the wonder that is the world around us. Yeah, it's pretty awesome that people are getting out of the house, walking around in nature, but what if they aren't actually appreciating all that surrounds them? People might be finding cool sculptures, but maybe they aren't seeing the sculpture for the art that it truly is, a piece that someone poured their time and energy into. Perhaps they see the sculpture and go "Oh hey, a pokestop! Better get my loot and find the next stop." There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but at the same time, it tends to defeat the purpose of enjoying your surroundings.
This same thing comes along with tourism in general. Often times people are more concerned about getting the perfect selfie in front of a historical site, rather than observing the site, interacting with it and learning about its history. While it's everyone's prerogative how they want to interact with nature and their surroundings, but it would be a shame if all users miss a beautiful sunset by the water because they were too busy trying to catch a rare pokemon. Furthermore, I can foresee the possibility of damaging natural areas because people decide they want to bushwack into some forested area because they think a pokemon is nearby, thereby harming actual living creatures' habitats.
Addiction is a word that people usually attach to alcohol or substance abuse, or gambling, but video games are no exception. I've seen first-hand many people who become addicted to having a screen in front of their faces and truth be told, I am probably no exception to the rule. I sit at a computer doing graphic design while passively watching the latest episodes of Game of Thrones, Bob's Burgers, The Walking Dead, Supernatural, Sailor Moon Crystal, etc... I check my phone constantly for emails from clients, and am probably a little addicted to Tsum Tsum, a game I discovered while perusing the video game arcades in Japan. There are probably at least as many hours in the day that I'm in front of a screen as there are hours that I'm not. Probably more. I hate to think I could be addicted to screens, and even more that I could be addicted to a time-waster like video games.
I'm no enemy of video games and actually see many benefits to playing as a form of relaxation, building hand-eye coordination and reflexes, and even social bonding. But no one should ever say that it isn't addictive, and what's not to be addicted to? Just like reading books or watching TV shows, you're allowed to enter a domain of someone else's imagination, take on the role of the character and interact with objects, environments and other characters. Pokemon GO is literally described as an Augmented Reality game, and with our real world being so often harsh, scary and downright difficult, it's not surprising that many want to turn to video games as an escape.
But with any escape which addictions serve out generously, it is is crucial that responsibilities aren't shirked, relationships aren't ignored, and that you are not harming yourself or others. Because people were already glued to their phones without invention of Pokemon Go, it is important that people realize when they are also in the presence of others. I make it a personal rule that when I spend time with friends or am on a date, that I'm not constantly texting other people (unless it's someone who's joining us), making phone calls, emailing, or playing games, unless I formally excuse myself. For this reason, I think it's important to be considerate of others when playing Pokemon Go. If you're actively playing it while hanging out with friends, great! But if you're ignoring someone who has given you their time, it's just plain rude to play and you might need to reconsider your priorities.
I mentioned how letting your nerd flag fly is an awesome side effect of the game's popularity, but one aspect I am worried about developing, especially as the game becomes more interactive once player-to-player combat is granted, is the possibility of bullying. Cyber-bullying is not a new topic and the game offers three teams for users to choose to be on, creating division in the same manner that cliques do in high school settings. Whether in person or online, I've already seen many criticize the team choices people make while also trying to brag about the team they chose to be on. As players try to lock down Training gyms in hopes of dominating the game world, gamers are already putting down rival teams.
For those not playing the game, there tends to be a sense of superiority via memes and criticism both online and on the streets. Online people like to brag that they aren't playing games because they're "not immature children." This is a part about video game culture criticism I have always hated, particularly in Western culture--the idea that playing video games past the age of 18 means you have a stunted level of maturity and responsibility. In Tokyo, although considered a bit of a syndrome (called aruki samuwa or "smart phone walkers/zombies") people of all ages can be seen playing games on their phones while commuting and there seems to be no guilt in partaking in this form of entertainment.
As for non-players of Pokemon GO in real life, there seems to be passing judgement in a more obvious form of pointing fingers at players and laughing. Or even this evening, I had someone come up to me and some friends just to mockingly say "Do you mind if I talk to you guys? You see, you realize this is just the government trying to control you through your devices. They're making you do it." No, they're not making me do it, Nintendo and Niantic are providing a game that I actively chose to play. (Also, if you're going to try and school me on your conspiracy theories, puh-lease, I'm so well-versed in more conspiracy theories than most.)
In any case, going out of one's way to poke fun at others is never cool. There is nothing to be ashamed of for playing a game, just as there is no shame in enjoying a book in a cafe, drawing a scenery on a park bench, listening to your own personally terrible taste in music, walking your dog, drinking with friends, or practically anything else anyone does for entertainment.
5. Buggy game
Finally, I come to the last con of Pokemon GO, and this time it actually has to do with the game itself...
Oh my goodness, what a frustrating app! I understand it's a work in progress, and perhaps its popularity wasn't fully anticipated in relation to the game's servers, but what a f**king nightmare! It's not that it's a hard game, but it is constantly crashing. At most, I can walk around with it active for maybe 15-20 minutes if I'm super duper lucky. Once it crashes, however, it's a complete gamble of whether I'll be able to play it at any point in the nearby future. Are any other apps open? Oh, I better close those. Maybe I should check the app store to see if there's an update. Oh, no update. :( Maybe if I just turn off my phone and turn it on again. Oh yeah, that worked... but wait, now it's saying it can't reach the server?! Okay, let's turn it off and on again. Maybe a hard reset? But that's bad for my phone. You know what, I'm just going to ignore the game and enjoy this beautiful park. Gaaahhh, but what if I'm missing out on a rare pokemon!? All these other players nearby seem to be getting something, let's just try to restart it one more time... Oh my god! I got in. I got in! *two minutes later* oh gawd! Not again!? Stupid, stupid game. I should just delete this until it's more stable.. But what about the other players, they'll be so ahead of me! Maybe I just need a better phone? WHY cruel world?! WHY?!
And that's more or less the way it goes until your phone says, "Hey dummy, your battery is at 20%, maybe you should stop trying to play in case you know, you need to actually use your phone for its intended purpose.
And that my friends, is Pokemon GO.
Please feel free to chime in on your experience, some pros or cons you have considered. I'm quite interested in your thoughts, predictions, or whatever else you think about the game.