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Let’s face it: Pokémon Go isn’t going away, at least not any time soon. There has been a lot of mixed press about the latest craze in video games lately, some of which is laughably yet tragically misinformed. I recently read one story in a London daily which catastrophised the uptake of the game worldwide; filled with concern over people climbing buildings and standing on railroad tracks to catch Pokémon, at risk to their very lives. They even used a few tweets from players who were obviously making jokes as evidence to the fact; people saying they had to climb on the tube tracks to collect a stray Pokéball (the things you use to catch the little beasties – which cannot be retrieved, no matter who tells you they can), complete with requisite photograph from their phones. The whole article was actually a concise study in how little this journalist knew about their chosen subject, how stuffy their sense of humour was and how quickly misinformation can spread.
There were also a few stories floating around about people being killed whilst playing Pokémon after being caught trespassing, and another one about a man who said he witnessed a murder while playing. Both turned out to be hoaxes. It seems that the growing sensationalism surrounding Pokémon is spiralling out of control sometimes – I read one article entitled ‘Pokémon Go Player killed in Dispicable Hit and Run’ which casually mentioned at the end that the girl wasn’t actually playing Pokémon at the time she was run over but had merely gone outside (allegedly to play Pokémon), as the police had found her phone in her pocket. Misinformation heaped on top of sensationalism, there.
Truth be told, there are a few ‘phone-zombies’ out there who have done themselves a mischief playing the game, it’s true. But they clearly only missed out on a Darwin Award due to the technicality of surviving their own stupidity, like the man who crashed into the back of a police car in Baltimore because he was playing Pokémon whilst driving. What a tool. I bet Baltimore feels safer knowing he’s off the roads, no matter what he was up to when his idiocy finally caught up with him.
Rather than give into all the fear-mongering and worrying about your kids, why not give Pokémon Go a go? It’s free after all, and you can just delete it if you decide it isn’t for you. No harm done and you’ll be better informed. Not enough to tear you away from Candy Crush? Then let me break it down for you, as to why you should at least give it an hour of your time before you write it off as ‘just another fad’ that the kids are into:
- From a grown-up perspective, Pokémon Go changes a lot of fundamental things about the way the world works on a technological level. We’re quite a large step closer to building the digital overlay of the real world that scientists have been working on for years now – augmented reality – because of Pokémon Go. It’s now in everybody’s pocket, everywhere, it’s linked into your physical location… and it’s only just starting out. Don’t you think there’s a conversation we as a society will be having about technology soon, on which you’ll want an informed opinion?
- It’s a total change in the way we play video games. One day, when your kid’s kids have had kids, they will talk about Pokémon Go in the same breath as Mario, Pong or Minecraft. It is a watershed moment – a paradigm shift in gaming and digital technology generally - the moment when video games and the real world overlapped fluidly and became interchangeable for most of the population for the first time. Your real movement echoes your movement in the game: the map you walk through is a map of the world from your perspective both digitally and literally, as it is linked through to google maps and mirrors your location constantly. It’s an amazing concept, when you really consider it.
- Playing Pokémon Go connects people with their local area. I’m staying in London as I write this, as I’m running our summer camps at Imperial this fortnight. I’m not really familiar with the local area, so decided on my first night to go out hunting new and interesting Pokémon in the big city and take a stroll around to get my bearings. Wandering around, I found several out of the way, interesting and beautiful landmarks around the neighbourhood that were all Pokéstops. I never would have even known they were there had I not been able to get my free Pokéballs from them, and my life is definitely richer for having seen them. I bet your neighbourhood is filled with them too; go take a look! There’s actually a few Pokéstops quite near me in Cambridge in rather interesting places; cemeteries for instance. (I wonder if you’d get ghost type Pokémon there?!)
- Autistic kids dig it. The heart-warming stories of several autistic kids around the globe who have opened up since playing PoGo are sometimes truly amazing. The story of Ralphie Koppelman; a 6 year old boy in the US who was completely closed off to other people in his life, who was able to interact and communicate with other children overnight as well as break his daily routines while playing PoGo is one of the more remarkable ones, but there are quite few of these stories around now. Stories of kids who were previously unable to find a medium for their interactions with the world are being liberated by the mixture of real and digital inherent in Pokémon Go. It’s a frame for the world that they can deal with, that allows them to reach out and communicate with others around them who were previously beyond their reach.
- It’s helping real animals. Well, sort of. A dog shelter in Muncie, Indiana released an advertisement asking people to come and walk their adoptable dogs while they played Pokémon Go and racked up the kilometres required to progress in the game. The ad read: “Trying to hatch an egg or catch rare Pokémon? Come on down to the Muncie Animal Shelter to walk one of our dogs while you get your steps in! Just come to the front desk and say you are here for the Pokémon dogs!” They were overwhelmed with visitors wanting to exercise the dogs whilst looking for Pokémon, some who adopted a dog after the visit.
- It encourages exercise and socialising outdoors. One of the biggest gripes many parents have about playing video games is summed up in the old chestnut; ‘Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air and exercise?’ Well, now that PoGo is getting people out and walking around outside, chatting with each other and generally being happy and having fun, these curmudgeons are complaining about the exact thing they were just wishing their kids would do! Pokémon encourages healthy activity, by providing bonuses to players who walk long distances through awarding eggs. Eggs come in three types (2km, 5km and 10km eggs), each type giving a rarer and more powerful Pokémon when hatched, after walking the requisite distance.
Parents, this is what you have been praying video games would do – encourage exercise and socialisation in your kids. It provides a medium for social interaction with others in days when many people are solitary and closed off from one another. Playing Pokémon Go puts you in a club of sorts, and at the very least it gives you something to talk to other people about and smile over with strangers in the street or on the tube. After a while, you can tell from a distance when someone has the ‘thousand-yard stare’ of the true Pokémon hunter. I approached one lady I saw at Imperial the other day who was showing signs of Pokémania, and casually pointed out to her that there was a Vulpix waiting just over the other side of the courtyard. The professor immediately hurried off in the indicated direction with a cheer and saying over her shoulder, ‘I nearly had one of those yesterday, but it got away!’
I urge you to have a go at Pokémon, even if only to understand that it’s not for you. To experience something your kid is into, to get inside the thing itself and understand it first hand is a rare and valuable thing. Don’t be closed minded and just jump on the loud bandwagon of hate for something that is, after all, supposed to be about having a bit of fun and a laugh. Who knows, you might find out that you like it – it’s a lot better, as well as more social and outgoing, than the twin demons of Candy Crush or Farmville. (I don’t want to play, please stop inviting me.) Additionally, if you do happen to enjoy catching Pokémon, what a great way to tune in with your kid and have a healthy competition going at the same time! Allowing your kid to teach you about Pokémon would be a hugely beneficial confidence boost for them, and allow them to feel masterful. You could take walks together catching rare Pokémon, and have mutual motivation to go out for a stroll around the block of an evening. You could compare the different Pokémon you caught that day, discussing how close you are to evolving your Magikarp into a Gyarados. You could form a family team and dominate rivals seeking to oust you from your local gym together; you know…quality time.
And for those who are intrigued by the game, but would rather not be recognised as a hunter of legendary kawaii beasts in public, here’s a final pro-tip: in the settings, you can switch on ‘battery saver mode’. Do this, turn off all sound and then turn your phone upside down to blank the display and go incognito. You’ll still get the notifications through vibration, as long as your phone doesn’t go to sleep (which you can avoid by installing an app like Caffeine to keep your phone awake and setting it to come on while Pokémon Go is running.)
MrC likes video games and thinks that if you don't like them too, you just don't understand them. He is an advocate of letting your kids make games for a living and is getting tired of explaining that video games as an industry are worth around 91 billion dollars this year, so let your kids do what they love and make fat stacks at the same time. he also believes that video games truly can make the world a better place, but is skeptical of anything resembling 'Sesame Credit' or 'Candy Crush', the two most nefarious games in history.