When Pokemon Go was released a few weeks ago, I was giddy with excitement. I’ve been playing Pokemon since I was 12, back when it was a new thing in North America. So when the mobile app came out, I was gung-ho to get started catching all the Pokemon around me! You might ask why a 31-year-old would be so enthralled with the idea of running around, phone in hand, catching monsters that aren’t even real. I’ll tell you.
They are real.
To me, life is more exciting while doing the impossible. After watching Star Wars for the first time, my brother and I would have lightsaber battles with painted, wooden dowels (which really hurt, by the way). I’ve read so many fantasy novels that I’m convinced there’s more to life than just what we see here (i.e. Dragons, elves, alternate dimensions, etc.). In fact, even visiting Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station in London made me believe even more that Hogwarts exists (something I have never doubted, I’ll have you know).
So when Pokemon Go came out, I was anxious to be on my way to become the very best, like no one ever was. In reality, to catch them was my real test, to train them was my cause. Basically, Pokemon Go was everything I wanted as a 12-year-old. So why, as a mature (cough cough) adult with a wife, family, and full-time job, would I want to run around catching “fictitious” creatures?
Because my imagination has not weakened with age.
When I wake up at 6:00 in the morning to go running (which thing I never did until Pokemon Go happened upon me), I’m not on a run from point A to point B. That’s boring! What I’m doing is running through my neighborhood searching for those critters so I can capture them and pit them against other Pokemon in heated gym battles.
That’s another thing. Gyms are also a thing in Pokemon Go. They are scattered throughout the city (and pretty much everywhere you go) and through your app you are able to tell where they are. You can even see when one is under attack. Now, when I go running, I’m not just running from here to there, but I’m actually going to the gym!
And, now that I know where these gyms are, I can feel their presence even when I’m not looking at my phone. I’ll drive through an area and think, “I wonder if my team has control of the gym at such-and-such a place?” Although set in augmented reality, these gyms are real, happening places where people meet to battle.
I’ve seen it. Biking home from playing ultimate Frisbee last Saturday morning, I stopped at a park on the way home. I knew there was a gym there so I got off my bike, opened the app, and lo and behold, the gym was being contested. The team that controlled the gym wasn’t my team, so I was fine with it. I walked over to the monument where the gym is located and saw two people sitting on a bench. I asked them if they were attacking the gym. They were. I asked what team they were on. They said yellow. I got so excited! I was Team Instinct as well! I had never met another person that shared my allegiance until then, and to see them attacking an enemy gym was just brilliant.
So we talked for a little bit. Talked about other gyms nearby and anything else relating to the game. It was neat, not just because they were my team, but because I actually went out of my way to talk to them.
You see, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world. Sure, I’ll talk with you and joke and whatnot, but for me to actually approach someone and strike up conversation is just madness! But I knew we had something in common. I knew that they were playing the same real-world game I was. And that helped me get over my awkwardness (even just a little).
For me, Pokemon Go is more than just a silly mobile game. It engages my imagination in ways no game has been able to do. It brings one of the things I love – nerdy ol’ Pokemon – into something that tests the bounds of reality. Since a youngster, I’ve read many fantasy books, learning about the different races and creatures that live among men. I’ve always known there was something lurking nearby, even if I have been unable to see it with my own eyes. With Pokemon Go, it helps me see the invisible creatures I knew existed. Much like the Lens of Truth in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time helps Link see secret entrances and secrets, so, too, does Pokemon Go help me – and everyone else who will but look – see the hidden wonders around us.
Besides the fun, imaginative reasons, Pokemon Go has helped me be more interested in being active. I’ve always tried running, but I always gave up after so long. I just can’t run for the sake of running. That’s why I play sports. Chasing something (or someone) gives me purpose, and I can use other parts of my body as well, such as my hands and feet, to help myself complete the task. Running? Well, that’s just hard for me to do by itself. Always has been.
And it’s not just me that’s benefited from the physical aspect of the game. Animal shelters across the country have seen huge increases in people volunteering to walk dogs. On one of my Pokemon Go Facebook groups (yes, I’m on multiple), somebody posted that he weighed over 300 pounds and never left his house. Since Pokemon Go was released he’s already walked 100 kilometers. Can you believe that? What other game out there encourages people to get off their seats and take a stroll? If nobody else but this guy has found motivation from this game, then I count it a huge success.
And then there’s the social aspect. Sure, I’ve talked to a few people here and there. I’d probably talk to more if I played it more often (this going back to the mature, responsible adult comment). But there are tons of people making new friends from this game. Team meet ups where people of the same team meet together to take out gyms has brought in outsiders. Outside our city’s public library each night, dozens – if not a hundred or more – people mingle and chat and laugh while they all catch Pokemon together. It’s a cultural phenomenon.
I’m a nerd. I accept that. And I know this game has received some flack for creating mobs of people glued to their phones. True, people are still staring at their screens, but there’s way more to it than that. Pokemon Go has created a large community for people that had none. It has created a way for people to find a reason to go outside and exercise, even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. It has engaged the imagination of millions of people throughout the world.
Sure, Pokemon is considered a nerdy thing to be a fan of, but at the very least it’s getting you out the door. I’d much rather see people wander around catching Pokemon on their phone than sit in front of the TV watching a 4-hour football game.
A spade is a spade, folks. I’m just calling it how it is.