From bathrooms and street corners to parking lots and in bushes, Cedar Rapidians are determined to capture these little animated creatures. It’s become a cultural and economic sensation overnight.
But, what the heck is it all about?
Created by a Nintendo-owned franchise, Pokémon Go is a GPS-based augmented reality game on iPhone and Andriod smart phones that encourages users to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game. The Pokémon “appear” around users on their phone screen so they can find and catch them. As they move around, different types of Pokémon appear, depending on the location and what time of day it is. They can look like rats, pigs, snakes, dragons, dinosaurs, birds, eggs, plants, and more. Once collected, users (or “trainers,” as the game calls them) can go to local “gyms” to train, battle, and level up these animated monsters to eventually take over and claim their spot as owner of the gym.
Pokémon Go fulfills a fantasy Pokémon fans have had since the games first came out in the early 1990s: What if Pokémon were real and inhabited our world? The game was released on Thursday, July 7 and has become talk of the town (and the world!) since.
I decided I had to see what this frenzy was about, so I downloaded it a few nights ago. I’m no video game nerd or Pokémon fanatic, but the game completely consumed me. Once I caught my first one, I couldn’t stop. I needed to catch more! I discovered that there were PokéStops (physical locations where you can pick up free items for the game) just blocks from my house. These markers are usually stationed at important cultural spots, such as statues, memorial benches, public or historic buildings, or other types of locations.
I was curious (and needed some fresh air, anyway), so I walked over to the park. As I approached the PokéStops (the splash pad, memorial bench, and Noelridge Aquatic Center), I noticed gaggles of kids, teens, couples and families walking around with their phones extended and heads down. It was like the Twilight Zone. There was little chatter or socialization – just walking, staring and swiping.
I walked closer to the group of 15 teens sitting by the memorial bench. They seemed to be meeting for the first time. One guy asked if anyone had seen a Pikachu go by while some people shared secrets and tips about the nearby “gym” by the bridge. In my 27 years of life, I’ve never seen a game (let alone a Pokémon game) bring people from all over the city together. Complete strangers bonding over Pokémon – mind blowing! Aside from the occasional question to passerby trainers or shrieks of joy when someone caught a Pokémon, the park was eerily silent.
It warms my heart to see kids, teens, and families bonding over this game and making it a group adventure. I applaud the game makers for creating something that is keeping kids out of trouble this summer. This game is encouraging kids and adults to venture off in the real world to explore Cedar Rapids’ landmarks, cultural locations, and public buildings (even if it is to find imaginary critters). It’s getting people moving and outside, which is a hard feat in this day and age. But, I have to say, for being marketed as social game, it’s making us more unsocial.
The game is bringing us physically together, but slowly pulling us away from real life interaction. Heads down, eyes glued to a screen, users are disregarding their surroundings and escaping to an isolated fantasy-land where communication, eye contact, and attentiveness are not required. I’ve even seen a few folks driving and playing the game, which is even scarier! We’re already attached to our phones as it is, and this game is making it virtually impossible to unplug, as the game needs to be constantly on in order to reap rewards, catch Pokémon, and track location. Some other down sides are: the game drains the battery almost immediately, encourages users to trespass, uses a substantial amount of phone data, has access to users’ Google data/locations, and has even been used to lure lone players in an armed robbery.
Disclaimer: After speaking with a few trainers at the park the other night and some avid Pokémon fans, I discovered that the game may not be as unsocial as I thought. I just don’t know enough about it and haven’t experienced all it has to offer. I’m simply making statements based off of what I’ve seen and how I’ve played.
It’s safe to say that this augmented reality app could have some serious real world implications. But it’s not all bad; it’s bringing strangers together and allowing gaming communities to form in real life. Users are even creating Facebook accounts to gather their teams, share tips and flaunt their collection, and some are even hitching rides from each other!
I can’t say I won’t ever play or explore Cedar Rapids via Pokémon Go, but I don’t think I can put busy mom life on pause to “catch ‘em all.” With it being an all-or-nothing game (it’s seriously so addicting and all-encompassing!), I just can’t make that commitment with a young daughter at home. That’s not to say the rest of you trainers or wanna-be-trainers shouldn’t play, though. Get exploring! Who knows, maybe you can make it a family affair!
Trainers: Please be alert, be safe, use common sense, be courteous and capture away!