Unless you play Pokemon Go, you would be well and truly confused by my statement that whilst me and my girlfriend took the dog out for a walk, we managed to catch a Drowzee, a Bellsprout and a Pidgey. There was an Eevee, too, but the cheeky fucker headbutted a pokeball away, dodged another and then disappeared, so that was an opportunity missed. However, considering how popular those furry little bastards are, I think I’ll stumble upon another when I go for a walk next time.
For this is the craze that is Pokemon Go, a mobile app that is part game, part exercise regime and part hunting simulator. Basically, if you haven’t played it, the game is the closest thing you will ever get to real-life Pokemon hunting. Players are encouraged to run the app and wander around their local area. In essence, the game essentially asks you to wander randomly until you stumble upon an imaginary, digitised animal, but it is also so much more than that. In an age where youths spend their free time sat with the curtains drawn, shooting each other in the face on FPS games and telling me online that they’ve slept with my mum, here is a game that rewards people for going outside and exploring their local area. By doing so, more Pokemon can be caught, and in turn the player’s level improves. Local landmarks can be set as Pokestops, too, areas where you can visit to top up your supplies, and other areas are Gyms- veteran players of the game will recognise a PokeGym as the place you go to make your assortment of stupid cartoon animals do battle against someone else’s stupid cartoon animals. You can also discover eggs, which hatch into a Pokemon after you’ve walked a certain amount of distance. Yes, that’s right: the app actually counts your steps and lets you know when you’ve walked the required distance to hatch the aforementioned egg.
A lot of parents will complain about the game, but frankly, they’re probably from the generation that never grew up with Pokemon. If I were a father- fondly remembering Pokemon Red and Blue– I would encourage my kids to go out every night for an hour and scour the local area looking for Pokemon. It encourages them to explore, and yet at the same time they don’t feel like they’re missing out on the latest craze. After all, the latest craze IS the reason they’re out adventuring in the first place. We sadly live in a world where digital entertainment is king- like it or not, there is little we can do to change that fact. Which would you rather have? Your kid shut in their room, endlessly grinding away at a game and missing out on time outdoors? Or walking around, finding new places in their local area, perhaps even travelling further afield to catch more exotic Pokemon, and by extension discovering the world that is outside of their window? I know which one I would prefer. In fact, Pokemon Go is a legitimate social catalyst. In an area where there is a rare Pokemon to be caught, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people will gather to try and hunt it, which means that fans get the chance to meet other fans- other likeminded people. At the local gym spots, too, people will gather, and okay, so they’re staring at their phones, but at least they’re out and about and meeting people who want the same thing as them. Besides, people of my age will enjoy the nostalgia of watching a generation discover the things that we adored in our childhood. You can forget your Ben 10, or your Monster High, or whatever the hell is popular these days, because Pokemon was where it was at. Pikachu, even over a decade later, is an iconic character, and the Pokemon cartoons and card games have become as much a part of popular culture as Star Wars. Would you be angry that your kid liked Star Wars?
There are, of course, the chances of stumbling upon one of those truly random moments. A Drowzee sat on the toilet, making it look as if it is doing its business whilst you pathetically try and flick your phone screen to throw a virtual ball at it to catch it. Or walking along a road, waiting to catch a Weedle, only for a van to drive past so it looks as if the poor caterpillar has been flattened by the vehicle. Or a Pikachu conveniently appearing in a field so that it looks like, alongside a dog, you’ve also been taking your pet pokemon for a stroll. Or, you know, a Diglet popping out of the toilet bowl as if it is a turd that has terrifying come to life.
In the newspaper the other day, I read an article about a group of youths who got so obsessed with catching Pokemon that they found themselves stranded on the rocks out to sea. Now, that is worrying, but it says more about the type of person they are than the game they play. The majority of the population- even those too young- have played a Grand Theft Auto game, and whilst a few of them have gone on to commit hideous atrocities, the 99.9% remaining gamers are sound of mind and haven’t ever felt the urge to gun down a bunch of innocent people. I suppose what I’m saying is that if you’re a sensible person, you realise that what you’re playing is a game, and that a game simply isn’t worth potentially drowning yourself for. These young people weren’t killed, but they will learn a valuable lesson about actually taking a few seconds just to check your surroundings. And if they’re still stupid enough to wander out into the middle of a dual carriageway in order to catch a Bulbasaur, I believe that is Darwin’s survival of the fittest being perfectly executed in the real world.
We have a game that encourages people to go outside. We live in a world where the alternative is to game in your front room without even breathing fresh air. What could possibly be wrong with that?