PokeFrenzy: Social Crisis or Just a Walk in the Park?

The world these days seems to be divided between those who run toward and those who run away from Super Popular Trendiness. Some are always eager to follow the hordes and others always eager to stand apart. But often, people gravitate both ways, pulled strongly towards one pole then the other depending on interests, personality, craving for company, or available free time.

The Pokemon Go phenomenon is shining a spotlight on these two opposing views. Everyone starts talking about playing it; then suddenly everyone is talking how they are NOT going to participate. People are either enthusiastic or horrified; there doesn’t seem to be much of a reaction in between. And in our boom and bust communication cycles, a weekend of news about this games popularity is invariability followed by “world-ending” stories about car crashes, muggings, and even national security breaches attributed to li’l ol’ Pikachu.

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Pikachu spotted in Walnut Creek

For the three readers who have not yet played this game, here is the essence of it. You play on a smartphone app. The game is free and generates random cartoon creatures where you are walking. You fiddle with your screen to “catch” the creatures and it takes a little manual dexterity but not much.

Thus, the essence of easy adoptability. The game structure was already fleshed out with increasing complexity, although you don’t need to understand it to play. Game features are attached to existing physical items that you can see as you walk around. Different people can enjoy different aspects.  The teenage boys on the block can battle each other in “gyms” they create and fill with higher point monsters. Meanwhile, a six-year-old and their grandmother can play together in the park.

So many Pidgeys, so little time.

In short, the interface connects to where you are. Unlike geocaching, it doesn’t require special gear or maps or driving off into the hills. Unlike the card game, you don’t need to buy special packs to succeed or understand much about hit points or matchups. The incentives to go explore locations with museums, churches, libraries or parks also boost our appreciation of civic infrastructure.

There have been legitimate stories of inattentive players who have walked into busy streets or driven into trees. Like any social phenomenon, failure betrays a person’s lack of common sense more than any aspect of the game. Perhaps it should not be played by people who forget to look both ways crossing a four lane highway; the game itself is not forcing you to run into traffic. The avatar is walking, so why drivers have been distracting themselves by playing while their foot is on the gas pedal is beyond me. Are they the same people who text and drive, perhaps?

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A Pokemon Crawl on 7/20 Dolores Park, SFgate.com

The NY Times also summarized a number of negative responses from several governments (7/22):

  • Saudi Arabia has renewed a fatwa on Pokemon, in general, as being un-Islamic. Note that according to Internet sources (e.g. Islamweb.net), many aspects of popular games are disallowed as un-Islamic, such as being reanimated or charging interest for use of virtual livestock in simulated farming. I’m sure if you asked Pope Sixtus IV, who presided over the Vatican during the Spanish Inquisition, the designers of Jigglypufs and Squirtles should probably be excommunicated for one reason or another.
  • Bosnia reminded players to avoid walking onto grounds still contaminated with land mines from the war in the 1990s
  • Egypt considered banning the game because players are taking and sharing photos of secured locations
  • Russian websites suggested the game is a CIA plot (Cold War leftovers anyone?)
  • German Holocaust memorials had to create signs reminding players to show decorum when visiting sites. The game locates items of value near museums so players would be drawn to play.

Also in the news, Nintendo company stock was artificially inflated then deflated within a week because investors mistakenly thought the company owned the profits from the app.  At least one police department claimed that criminals were augmenting Pokestops to lure victims. The game generates value at places of civic interest, but these can be further enhanced by players to contain more critters. Again, common sense people, a Dratini cannot protect you in a dark alley in a bad part of town at 2 am, even he has 389 HP.

The game also attracts false rumors.  If you google Snopes and Pokemon Go, the list of false claims is long– that a dog adoption service charged money and increased adoptions of shelter dogs by linking themselves to the game; that teenagers are stabbing each other over gameplay; multi-car pileups, Satanic rituals and so forth. Flicking down the list in Snopes seems to reveal so many sites devoted to creating false rumors for advertising clickbait, that it’s a wonder how to believe anything on the Internet. I recommend trusting an article with a byline of the NY Times printed in the Sunday newspaper more than one on a site called TheNoChill.com.

I do also find it ironic that when hiking on real trails, the lack of a GPS signal means you encounter very few PokeCritters, even though the game was designed for walking. Instead, the Pokemon tend to cluster heavily around shopping centers. At our local Castro Valley Village, there is a Pokestop at Lourd’s Ice Cream. How is that supposed to make you healthy?

I just walk by the Zubats now.

Personally, I have always prided myself on NOT succumbing to the lure of the glitter. I did not watch OJ in the white Bronco. I did not collect Beanie Babies or Cabbage Patch Dolls. Did not play beer pong or go to toga parties in college, did not see E.T. or Titanic, do not shop on Black Friday.

But I caught this wave because I caught it early and it’s easy to play. We have a Poke Savant in the house  who started enthusiastically playing the day after the game launched. Went walking in the woods and into town for hours. (I am admonished not to call them a PokeMaster. They spent an afternoon last week constructing a grid to optimize battles between different Pokemon types. What would you call someone who does that?) We went out with flashlights after dark, searching. Why at night? Because the popularity of the game during the day would cause the game to freeze up constantly, and the servers worked better at night. Another player replied when I wrote this on Facebook:

…servers are rip everyday/its only when the maintenance ends, that’s when the true maintenance begins…

Half Zen, half Hogwarts incantation! That’s Pokemon.

Suppose you are horrified by this social phenomenon, suppose you feel you need to sneer at or troll participants, suppose you decide that you are anti-participant because who wants to be part of a horde?  The problem is that there is now a horde of anti-participants out there. That is the challenge in our society of six plus billion people with near instantaneous communication. Even declaring yourself a “loner” is an activity that gets crowded with joiners rather quickly.

Here is where things stand for me at the end of July 2016. I am at a level 11, with 47 unique critters in my Pokedex including the slightly rare Gastly and Pinsir. (Not as awe-inspiring as my spouse’s Scyther which caused the local savant to evoke mock fainting).  I have proven that just walking in circles in my house doesn’t seem to advance the counter that helps hatch eggs; for some reason, I had to walk outside. And then, you know, the servers were wonky. But once I reloaded the game oh, two or three times, I hatched an Oddish with 220HP!

I would be tempted to say that’s kind of a lazy name, that this is just a passing fancy, and that maybe I ought to have better things to do with my time…. but he is very cute and I’m his mother, so he will always be perfect in my eyes.

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Actual Oddish may vary


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0 Replies to “PokeFrenzy: Social Crisis or Just a Walk in the Park?”

  1. I don’t have a smartphone, so I don’t play. But maybe I would if I had one, you know, casually. It seems kind of fun. On the other hand, I like to enjoy people’s gardens when I’m out on a walk, and spend too much time playing computer games as it is, so maybe not having a smartphone is for the best.

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