Monday, 19 September 2016
Pokémon GO: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
I wrote this the week after the Pokémon GO launch in July and it was published originally on Forces of Geek. While I'm not playing the game or using the app as much as I was when I first wrote this, I still stand by all the good it's done.
If you don’t know what Pokémon GO is then first let me welcome back from your remote island trip. Chances are however, that most people have heard about Niantic’s Pokémon app by now, whether you’re a fan of the original card game, the games, a trainer just starting out, a reigning champion gym leader or simply a bewildered adult who, unlike most, somehow went through life without ever hearing anyone even utter the words “Pokémon” or “Pikachu”, we need to talk.
Pokémon GO is a free location based augmented reality mobile game where you can catch Pokémon in the real world and with a daily active user count that has overtaken Twitter and with Nintendo’s shares having risen by 86% it’s kind of a big deal. Whether you like it or not, we need to get a few things straight because so far, various news outlets have reported on numerous inconveniences, accidents and even fatalities caused by Pokémon GO. Reports of people wandering off of cliffsides in search of a Geodude, finding a dead bodies or stepping out into traffic because HOLY CRAP! THERE’S A VULPIX OVER THE…
Sad as these incidents may be, it’s important to consider whether it’s actually Niantic’s fault or simply the carelessness or stupidity of people not paying attention to their surroundings. I maintain it’s the latter. Remember when texting became the norm (that’s right kids, I lived in a world before we could text anyone, can you believe I had to call them…on their house phone!?), there were news reports back then of accidents being caused by people texting instead of looking both ways when crossing the road or worse, texting while driving.
So before scared parents and the anti-gaming brigade start pointing fingers and calling for bans, let’s agree that stupid people are stupid and will do stupid things regardless of distraction and have been doing so since the dawn of time.
Right, now that’s out of the way I want to talk about the positive aspects of Pokémon GO and so I’ve compiled a list:
1. It’s Free
Because it’s a free-to-play game, children and those with little or no disposable income are able to play. Sure, you can buy extra items in the store but Pokémon GO doesn’t force it on you like other apps do. You can play without ever needing to spend as you gain items whenever you level up or visit a Pokéstop. These are places of interest or landmarks in local areas and it doesn’t usually take long to come across one.
2. It Promotes Exercise
There are ways and means to sit idly at home and catch yourself numerous Pidgeys or Rattatas but that requires spending money on incense to attract them to you and in doing that you’re not exactly going to catch any rare Pokémon.
Even though you only need to wander 100m - 300m to find plenty of the little blighters, in my experience taking a walk in your local area will reveal a larger variety to catch. For example, if you live near a river then chances are they’ll be a few Horseas or Magikarps around, I even found a Krabby and a Seaking as I walked past a local fishmongers stall in Norwich market.
You can also hatch Pokémon by incubating eggs in your rucksack, I’ve managed to attain over 20 eggs since I started playing a week ago by visiting Pokéstops in my city. Certain eggs hatch after your phone registers that you have walked for 2km, 5km or 10km depending on the type of egg you have. This actively encourages taking long walks because you can’t cheat by driving.
My husband and I popped out of the house to take a short walk only to find ourselves 6 hours later, returning home with heavy legs, full inventories and another 30 Pokémon. We even accompanied our friends who live nearby on their evening dog walk a few nights ago. We’re all becoming more active and that definitely can’t be a bad thing. Take that, people who say gaming is bad for your health!
3. Animal Shelters Are Gaining More Dog Walkers
When I found out that animal shelters had gained an increase in the number of dog walking volunteers due to Pokémon GO, it filled me with joy.
Taking long walks is something that all dogs love and those in shelters don’t often get the kind of exercise they need. By volunteering to walk dogs, there’s a real chance that you’ve improved their life and who knows, maybe some of those volunteers might become attached and eventually adopt a canine friend? I even know of people who have asked to take their friends and neighbours dogs out for walks.
You can catch and train Pokémon while also benefiting the lives of real animals too, what a time to be alive!
4. Sick And Disabled Children Are Being Included
Local children’s hospitals have been inundated with people leaving lures (items that attract Pokémon to that particular area) so that bed-bound children can play the game too. Many of these children are unable to leave their bed, let alone the hospital or hospice they’re in and the kindness of strangers is giving them a chance to play and enjoy a game that they would otherwise be unable to play. Inclusion is a wonderful thing and anything that promotes it is encouraging and the positive actions of these players should be commended.
5.Children With Autism Are Benefiting
You may have seen the article that’s been doing the rounds on social media lately, written by a mother who has a son with autism who doesn’t like being out of his home much and who craves familiarity and routine. Since playing Pokémon GO, his mother is in awe at his excitement about visiting new places and he’s even interacted with other kids, something his parents have tried to get him to do for many years. I find it incredible that Pokémon GO might actually be a way to combat social anxieties in children.
6. It Benefits Local Businesses
Although some businesses have protested at large groups hanging out nearby or outside their establishments instead of providing patronage, there are some cafés and pubs here in the UK who have used Pokémon GO to their advantage. One such coffee shop started offering discounted coffees to different factions, depending on who runs the nearest gym. There are even some who actively encourage people to come in and place down lures, thus bringing them more custom.
7. People Are Learning About Their Local Area
Since playing the game I’ve discovered landmarks that I never knew existed in my local area as well as visiting parts of my city that I never have, despite living here for 12 years! I’ve discovered new coffee shops, monuments and finally visited a nearby seaside town.
A friend of mine went on a walk through a local cemetery and welled up when she discovered a war memorial that she learnt was actually started a long time before the First World War and some of the ash trees there are labelled with metal ‘Ashtags’ for fallen soldiers, later on her walk she found a memorial bench dedicated to 'All Happy Dogs who have walked here’.
Incidents like this are educational and emotional and remind us all how lucky we are and that there is goodness in the world….wow, I think I might puke from my own sappiness.
8. People Are Making Friends
There is a huge sense of camaraderie among players, strangers nod and smile with that knowing look, or share tips and point you in the direction of an Eevee. A day or two ago, I was walking home from an improv comedy night with my friends and we all had the app active, when two twenty-something guys started singing the Pokémon TV series theme at us from across the road.
Okay so they weren’t the best singers but hearing people unashamedly sing “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was, to catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause!” was extremely uplifting, we felt completely at home.
It’s the feeling I get when I’m at a video game or comics convention, I feel part of something and proud to be part of it. It celebrates geek culture in the right way, something that the mainstream media and terrible shows like The Big Bang Theory have failed to do. In many ways, my encounter with the singing fans is no different to football fans singing their teams anthem at strangers wearing the same shirt or jersey, it evokes positivity and pride.
9. It’s Cross Generational
My aunt posted on her Facebook feed a few days ago how lovely it was that her 12 year old son and her 21 year old daughter were going out for a walk together to catch Pokémon, something they wouldn’t have done without Pokémon GO. They enjoyed a walk in the fresh air, actively spent time together and now have a common interest.
Add to that the numerous parents who grew up playing the Pokémon games who can now encourage their own children to go on walks and explore the outdoors while also bonding and spending time with them.
10. People Are Enjoying Something…
…so quit your whining, fear-mongering and negativity and just let people enjoy something for a change! With all the recent chaos and despair in the world, Pokémon GO is a welcome distraction!