Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you probably know a little bit about Pokémon Go…or at least you know that it’s a thing and it exists. Hopefully. If you don’t (I’m surprised you’ve managed to find the internet), it’s a really awesome app that lets people find and capture cute little creatures while the player is out exploring the world around them by accessing the GPS in their phones. However, I didn’t always feel this way.
I heard about Pokémon Go shortly after it was released and, honestly, thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever. I heard about people injuring themselves trying to catch a pokémon. I saw people walking around with their faces buried in their phones, and thought, “Great…one more thing to keep people from being a part of the physical world around them”. And then everything changed.
A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a friend of mine and, before he took me home, he asked if I wanted to go to a nearby park and walk around for a little bit. This seemed like a rather odd request; however, I wasn’t in any rush to get home so I figured why not. When we pulled into the parking lot, he informed me that this was a completely selfish stop because he needed more poké balls and this park had “like 6 poké stops”. Admittedly, I was about to give the hardest of eye-rolls when I noticed a pretty amazing thing: groups (or rather, hordes) of 20-somethings, teens, and even a few 30-somethings were all out walking around the park…at 11:30 at night. Now, I’m not sure about you guys, but I grew up in a neighborhood where you stay away from parks after the sun goes down…unless you needed drugs or a knife wound. So the fact that I saw this park filled with very un-shady people walking around and socializing with each other was really incredible.
As I followed my friend around the park, I realized this game was actually brining people together and not isolating players. I heard shouts of, “CHARMANDER OVER HERE!” and then saw two or three small groups run in that direction. I saw a group of about six teens running, like a herd of wildebeests, after some pokémon while the leader was shouting directions and warnings (“There’s a hole there, be careful.”). I started realizing that this app might actually have some social benefits. I also realized that I needed it and that I needed to be the very best like no one ever was.
The next day I downloaded the app and, later that night, called my friend to take me back to the park. Now, I’m a very introverted person with a bit of social anxiety and generally prefer to watch other people socialize but, when it comes to Pokémon Go, actually being a part of the action is much more fun. I instantly felt more at ease because I was around groups of other trainers, not strangers. Playing the game with my friend actually led to us talking more, and not just about the game, but about life in general. There were even more groups out than the night before but being a part of it made the experience much less overwhelming. We were about to leave after hitting the pokéstops a few times when we heard, “SNORLAX! THERE’S A SNORLAX OVER HERE!”
Everyone in the park stopped what they were doing and ran toward the person who was yelling. Everyone gathered around the Snorlax and 20 or so strangers all started talking to each other like a group of friends. After everyone had caught their Snorlax we all just stood around talking about the rare creature we had all just caught or consoling those whose ran away. I know this might not sound like much but, thanks to this game, people are helping each other, encouraging each other, sharing with each other, and even comforting total strangers.
Since I’ve started playing this game, I have found a lot of reasons to love it. Not only do I get to fulfill my childhood dream of being a pokétrainer, but the app gets me out of the house and makes it much easier for me to socialize. I love that many pokéstops and gyms are located at sculptures, parks, community centers, college campuses, and other places of cultural import around various communities. This game actually gets us introverted, gamer types out of our houses and into the ‘real world’. It also makes you exercise but in a way that’s fun and results in rewards I actually care about. I love that the app encourages you to walk in order to hatch eggs and that there is no other way, like in app purchases, to hatch the egg. You want to know what’s in that 10km egg? Go out and walk!
Not only does this app have social benefits on an individual scale, like encouraging exercise or facilitating interactions, it has social benefits on a community scale. Local business offer discounts to members of different teams. Restaurants in my area offer meal deals if you catch a certain number of pokémon while eating at their establishment. I saw an arboretum by my house using the Pokémon Go app as a way to raise donations! There’s even a story about an animal shelter that used the game as a way to get people to walk dogs and encourage adoption.
I know there are mixed feelings about this game and more than a few people who think this is the worst thing to happen to our society since the smart phone, but I think it’s absolutely amazing. Sure, people have gotten themselves into…less than ideal situations while playing, but that’s not the game’s fault. That’s just people being idiots and doing idiot things (tbh, those people probably didn’t need an app to help them with that). Honestly, when was the last time a game got people out of the house, helped local businesses and nonprofits, fostered a sense of unity and camaraderie among strangers, AND helped people manage things like depression and anxiety (general or social)? This game also crosses generational lines and is a great way for families to bond. My mom and I hang out and go hunting for pokémon and pokéstops quite frequently.
And that’s the story of how, and why, I fell in love with this ridiculous game. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pokémon to catch!