While Pokémon GO players have been painted as “mindless zombies” strolling the streets with their heads buried in their phones, my week playing Pokémon GO has proven that the Pokémon crowd is actually engaging with one another in a way that I haven’t seen since before smartphones. In fact, the game seems to be providing something that society has been severely lacking since technology and virtual friendships have taken over many people’s social lives. As I hunted Pokémon, I noticed something distinctively different about the crowd around me. I wasn’t seeing the dimly lit faces of people mindlessly scrolling through their Facebook feed or the young person taking 50 photos in front of the boardwalk trying to get the perfect selfie. Instead, I was seeing dozens of people actually looking each other in the eye, giving high-fives and laughing, I saw something pretty spectacular.
— Fr Matthew Schneider (@FrMatthewLC) July 14, 2016
Many Pokémon GO naysayers have claimed that the game is turning people into zombies that can’t look up from their phone screens; however, those naysayers are neglecting to see the beauty in the latest gaming craze. While encouraging people to get out and walk around, see new places and explore their community is a noble cause, some have said that it is turning the real-world into a virtual setting and is no more noble than playing Xbox at home. One Washington Times writer, Caitlin Dewey, expressed her disdain for the game and details a vast array of reasons for the hatred.
— DarkZero_ (@ZeroToHero77) July 19, 2016
Dewey notes that Pokémon GO may encourage people to walk more and to go to places they otherwise may not have visited; however, she says that this is all for not as people are glued to their phones and not taking in the beauty around them. She says that people should want to visit museums and monuments because they have merit on their own, not because a rare Pokemon may be hanging out there. Therefore, she says playing Pokémon GO is no better than binge-playing Xbox in your bedroom.
“Given all this, it seems unfair, even disingenuous, to pretend that playing Pokémon Go is somehow socially superior to binge-playing Xbox in your bedroom. At least in that scenario, the fantasy’s tied to a place; it can’t continuously overshadow the physical objects (and vexed fiances) around you.”
— Pokémon Go Servers (@PoGoServer) July 14, 2016
While some people may bury their heads in their phone to play the game, my Pokémon hunting experience has been vastly different than that described by Caitlin in her scathing piece. In fact, what the Washington Post piece described is what I saw everyday in grocery stores, at parks, and on hiking trails prior to the Pokémon craze. People mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, rarely looking up at the world around them because the virtual world in their smartphone seemed more interesting than the world around them.
Whether it is a young woman at Yellowstone National Park staring into her cellphone while trying to capture the perfect selfie as a geyser spews in the background or bored family members scrolling through their cellphones while waiting for food to be delivered to their table at a restaurant, social interactions have been at a minimum for quite some time. Even in “real-world” locations, social media was ever-present and sometimes more desired than the real-world around the user.
— King Bach (@KingBach) July 13, 2016
However, Pokémon GO seems to be changing the way that society tethers the virtual world to the real world. As Caitlin Dewey points out, it would be ideal if social interactions and getting outdoors would happen naturally without the need of augmented reality. However, in a tech-heavy world, it may take an augmented reality game to make people realize what they were missing in the first place.
The change already seems to be taking place. I was at a local park that had a series of three Pokestops, all had lure modules active so the Pokémon crowd was out in full force. As I looked around I noticed something unusual, faces were not buried in their phones but people were talking and actually looking at each other in the eyes. I saw a group of young people all sitting in a circle with their phones on their laps. One person in the group was talking about some Pokémon tips he had learned while the others listened intently. They were talking about places they had visited trying to find rare Pokémon, sharing stories and laughing. A phone beeped and everyone excitedly looked at their phones to see what Pokémon had appeared. The group catches the Pokémon and then they place their phones back down again and continue their discussion.
— Pokémon GO News (@PokemonGoNews) July 11, 2016
I have stopped and talked to numerous people while playing the game, people of all ages, races, backgrounds and professions. Even when a Pokémon hunt was underway and people needed to “stare” at their phones, it was typical to see groups of people banding together to find the elusive Pokémon while carrying on discussions as they searched.
While the game is not without problems, think people walking off cliffs or into traffic, I believe that this one little game is reshaping the way we engage with each other in real-world settings while continuing our obsession with technology. Even if the only positive is seeing a mother excitedly jumping in the air as a Pikachu appears in the Walgreens parking lot as her kids explain the Pokémon’s rare talents instead of checking her virtual friends’ Facebook statuses, I think the game is a social success story.
Thanks to #PokemonGO I walked 5 miles and made 8 new friends yesterday. This is the most active and social I have been in months.
— Brooklyn Rowley (@brooksiyyy) July 11, 2016
I’m seriously so charmed by the social phenomenon that is #PokemonGO, such fun bonding with friends & meeting ppl and AUGH IT FEELS SO PURE
— TOP CHOMP (@squeedgemonster) July 11, 2016
The proof seems to be in the pudding for humanity’s desire for technology and real-world experiences, Pokémon GO has already surpassed both Facebook and Twitter for average user engagement. According to CNET, Pokémon GO users spend approximately 33 minutes on average per day playing the game. Whereas, Facebook users spend an average of 22 minutes on the social media app.
What do you think about the Pokémon GO craze? Is it a blessing or a curse? Do you agree that the game could be proof that humanity craves real-world social interactions but they just needed a little push to break free of the appeal of a virtual-only world?