Looking for a solution to a problem? It could be anything, from flagging company sales, damn kids on your lawn, or even an out of control crime rate. Chances are, Pokémon Go is your answer. Society’s new whipping boy is the smash hit mobile game from Nintendo and Niantic, and boy, are they whipping it hard.
Within a week of its release, app intelligence firm Sensor Tower said more than 7.5 million people had grabbed Pokémon Go on iOS and Android in the U.S. alone. A few days later, it was crowned the biggest U.S. mobile game ever, with more than 21 million active users each day. Contrary to beliefs held by the slow-witted, Pokémon Go isn’t only being downloaded by kids, either. More then 40 percent of players aged between 25 and 54, with 34 percent in the important 25 to 34 range.
Because of this groundbreaking success, everyone is piling on. No matter the crime, irritation, business, or negligible connection between it and a product or idea; someone, somewhere will link it to Pokémon Go.
Annoyingly, those exploiting the game may bring about its demise. There’s only so much whipping it can take — from all sides, whether its the disgruntled public or an overeager business — before it lays down and gives up. We’re teetering on the edge of Poké-overload, and the clueless are doing an astonishingly good job of ruining it for everyone.
Why does it matter? After all, it’s only a game. Sure, but there’s something bigger here. Pokémon Go is evidence of a powerful change, not just in gaming, but in society’s response to and understanding of social games in general. We shouldn’t overshadow that in our desperation to exploit something popular.
After the incredible, global delirium, the media was quick to cash in. Pokémon Go players are seemingly always getting shot, stabbed, robbed, or threatened with mass extermination, all because they’re so caught up in the game. If they’re not the victim, then they’re out spraying graffiti, stealing Pokémon Go-equipped phones, trespassing, and generally running amok. Pokémon Go has, if you believe the headlines, caused international upheaval, is everything that’s wrong with capitalism, and may give you Alzheimer’s.
It gets worse. Marketing folk stuck in an idea-vacuum saw an opportunity. Every creatively-lacking company is trying to use the new Pokémon craze to advertise everything from extended battery packs and cases — perfect for the Pokémon Go player on the move! — to real estate, and even unlimited data offers from networks, tailored especially for Pokémon Go players.
We’re just as bad. Search Digital Trends for Pokémon Go stories, and you’ll find about 50 stories since the game came out. It’s not just us, obviously. In the great hunt for pageviews, every media outlet has found ways to spin Pokémon Go into dozens of publishable, but stupid stories. It shows a true strength, and weakness of the Internet.
Pokémon Go is a global phenomenon, so everyone needs to make hay (and advertising dollars) while the sun shines.
It’s no wonder that the curmudgeonly are sick of it all. The saturation point has already been reached and exceeded for many, and it’s hard to argue against those who simply don’t want to hear about Pokémon Go ever again. The hardcore haters are spreading memes, telling players to grow up, and questioning why we don’t go to a bar/meet members of the opposite sex/get a life instead of playing a stupid, pointless game. The most recent shared with me said adult males playing the game should “Hand in their man card.” I assume a “man card” is a Pokémon card I have never heard of, but I’ll never know for sure.
However, I wonder how many people complaining about Pokémon Go have actually played Pokémon Go. Judging by the response, and lack of knowledge on how the game actually works, it’s certainly not many. Therefore, I’m at a loss to understand the negativity. Is it ironic? The now standard “hate things that are popular” internet response? Or is it a knee-jerk reaction to something they don’t understand, and are therefore fearful of?
It is disturbing. How utterly joyless must you be not to marvel at an app that — without violence, nudity, or misogyny — is getting people up, outside, and having fun?
Most troubling is the obliviousness to Pokémon Go’s importance. It’s not the first game of its kind, and it won’t be the last. Bigger, better, and more immersive games like this are on their way. Games that deeply integrate players with the real world. Games that positively change our habits. Games that anyone can play, and connect to like-minded people outside, rather than inside, on the couch or at a computer.
The social element of Pokémon Go is like nothing I have ever experienced. For example, yesterday I came across two Lures attached to a adjacent PokéStops. I stood and caught Pokémon for a while before noticing a lone figure sitting on the ground, back against a tree. I later found out he had already seen me and wondered if I was playing Pokémon Go, in the same way I was wondering that about him. We ended up chatting, comparing experiences.
He told me the night before, he’d been at the beach, and it was so full of Lures he couldn’t access the game at all. Instead, he talked to the players hanging out there. I cannot think of any other video game, smartphone or otherwise, that has brought people together like Pokémon Go.
Don’t blame Pokémon Go for societies ills. And it is more than just another trending topic companies should use to sell their products and seem relatable. It’s not the game’s fault the entire media world is slipping the word Pokémon into each and every headline, either.
If you haven’t tried the game, then don’t judge it or its players. If you’re guilty of Pokémon-hate, then you’re rolling your eyes at a game that may end up being as influential as Pong, Tetris, Super Mario Bros., or Pac-Man.
People are going out into the real world, talking and meeting other people, all because of a smartphone game. To me, that is not something to belittle; it’s incredible. 20 years ago, Pokémon got kids talking and trading, and now it’s doing the same for the rest of us.
As with all Opinion pieces, the views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.