Chill, it's not as awful as you think
by Anastasia Lacina
When Pokemon Go was released in the United States in this July, it quickly became a global phenomenon. Despite its initial technical issues (shout-out to that “Our servers are experiencing issues” screen I’ve seen a billion and a half times), Pokemon Go has become one of the most used apps of 2016, and it’s been downloaded more than 500 million times all over the world.
If for some reason you’ve been living in a cave for the past two months, here’s the basic premise: Pokemon Go is an augmented-reality app which uses a smartphone’s GPS capabilities to pinpoint your location and the location of randomly-placed, artificial “pocket monsters”. A player can catch Pokemon – and add them to their collection – by using Pokeballs, which can be acquired from Pokestops (similarly randomized landmarks that double as shops for all your Pokemon needs). The goal of the game? To Catch ‘Em All™ - a familiar phrase to us veteran Pokemon trainers. By obtaining at least one of all the original 151 Pokemon, a player can complete their Pokedex and win ULTIMATE POWER. I mean, not really, but you get the point.
Basically, if you don’t play Pokemon Go yourself, you almost definitely know at least 30 people on your newsfeed who do. It’s pretty difficult not to know about it.
But even though the game is fun as dicks and also has the added benefit of promoting social and physical activity, a substantial portion of the general public continues to complain about it. And not just random old men on porches, shaking their fists and yelling, “Get off my lawn, ya damn kids!”, but actual people in our actual lives who we care about.
Even though it’s been two months, it still seems like every time I check my Twitter feed, there’s a story about the “Pokemon Go problem” – with complaints including everything from trespassing, to child molestation, to finding dead bodies. Pokemon Go has been blamed for it all. But the truth is that most of those clickbait headlines you’ve seen have been completely and thoroughly debunked by Snopes. Chicago kids getting stabbed after wandering into a bad neighborhood in search of a Scyther? Not true. Florida teen murdering his younger brother to get his 2200 CP Dragonite? Nope. Man causes 15 car pile-up while trying to catch a Pikachu in the middle of a highway? Fuck no.
Now, there has been a problem with people playing the app while driving. But app’s parent company, Niantic, has recently introduced updates which dissuade people from playing while driving or otherwise distracted, and developers have been looking into ways to improve their safety measures even more in the future.
So, real talk. Pokemon Go is extremely fun. It isn’t truly hurting anyone, and it has given people with social anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems a reason to go outside, enjoy the sun, and get some exercise, as well as meet new friends and learn more about their community.
And if this is the case, then what’s really behind this adamant dislike of Pokemon Go that we’ve seen circling around the Twittersphere? I think the answer can be summarized in a mid-July issue of the Washington Post. The front page? “POKE-POCALYPSE!” Subtitled? “In less than a week, the augmented-reality app Pokemon Go has hooked millions of users – and left many non-players baffled by its popularity.” In other news, pre-millennial Americans can’t understand another technology-driven social fad that’s attracting their kids and grandkids. Forbes contributor Kevin Murnane has speculated that a large part of the vitriol directed at Pokemon Go is just a subset of the existing condemnation towards young people: that we’re “clueless, self-absorbed morons who have [our] heads buried in our cellphones.” And some of that may be true. Now, hear me out: as a generation, we have created an entire social community, powered by new technology – and this is a concept that is completely and utterly post-modern. Nothing even vaguely similar to the technological and sociological revolution of the past 20 years has ever happened before. Our communities are basically centered on the Internet and on social networks: which, despite what our parents may say, isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different from anything they’ve ever known or seen before.
The science-fiction author Douglas Adams once said: “Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.” And Pokemon Go just happens to be one of the things that falls within that bracket for a majority of Americans.