Mysterious forms shuffling through the neighbourhood at night; faces with lifeless, lost, blank looks; complexion made pale by a dim light from underneath; little conversation – only “this way,” “that way,” “I think it’s over here”; various grunts and groans as with hunched shoulders the forms follow each other slowly, not sure which way to go: The zombie apocalypse is upon us people. And it’s being played out in every neighbourhood a cell phone with a decent data connection can reach.
That’s right, it’s Pokémon Go.
All I know of this incredibly pervasive fad is what I have heard of it: people use the app on their phone to search through neighbourhoods trying to “catch” the little figures that pop up in various locations. Watching a news story the other day of a human stampede in Central Park caused by one of the rare little figures in the game popping up there, I marvelled at the popularity of this “game.” It seems simple – though I have yet to have tried – and maybe that is what makes it so popular.
To call it a “fad” may not give it justice. Not that it is going to be any more long lasting than a fad; but, rather the intensity and absolute speed at which this game has caught on makes it more of a “craze,” I think. But what I don’t subscribe to is an immediate lurch toward judgement; some in their pretentious ways automatically dismissing something that has become so popular so quickly (and seemingly as silly as this) as “stupid” or “a waste of time.”
Analysing Pokémon Go Without Having Played It
Ok, so let’s look at this phenomenon. At first I think, what right do I have to analyse it having never even seen it, never mind having never played it?! But maybe that is the MOST objective opinion one can form: as a bystander only observing the human behaviour caused by the game.
Outside of a warning that people keep their heads up as they wander around (including an R.C.M.P. Constable advising the same when interviewed on the local radio station the other day) I know of no real harm here. In fact, let’s look at the benefits.
I have often complained that this little City (Fort Saskatchewan) basically falls asleep – in its entirety – by 9:30 pm. A bit of a night person, I will often go for a stroll around 11 pm or later and can hear a pin drop on the main street. A few evenings ago, however, I noticed at least 5 small groups of people walking through town, chatting a bit, laughing, and helping those on their “team” who may be a bit more directionally challenged. Just let me say this: anything that gets people out of the house and walking around outside can’t be all that bad. One thing I would like to see is stats from the Pokémon Go people once winter arrives. It would have to be a ratio of app holders to active app players to be an accurate showing of winter’s impact since I’m sure the overall number of players will continue to climb.
This is not to say I will not be critical of Pokémon Go – or rather, of the fanatical players. On a recent stroll with my girlfriend through the beautiful, yellow-leaved trees of the fall flush at the Alberta Legislature grounds in Edmonton, the number of people staring at their devices and shuffling through this beautifully adorned park, instead of looking up at the natural beauty surrounding them, was nothing short of shameful.
Minecraft: the Online Version of LEGO
A similar recent “craze” to Pokémon- at least in magnitude and with no resemblance between the games themselves – is Minecraft. I will admit that when I first saw and started hearing of the popularity of Minecraft, I myself dismissed it as a waste of time. Perhaps it was that part of me as the old man sitting on the lawn waving his rake at the young’uns going by with their ripped jeans and awful music playing, as I dismissed this emerging phenomenon as just another video game. Then I played it with my kids and realised something: I loved LEGO as a kid (and still do actually) and this Minecraft thing is essentially online LEGO. I love the creativity, building and collaborative play inherent in Minecraft. It may even – dare I say – have a leg up on LEGO. Yet, as Stephen Colbert said recently on his post-twilight “Late Show,” as soon as something online becomes too popular, and thus mainstream, people begin to hate that thing. Such has been the case for some Minecraft players – a number of them drifting towards agar.io (though that game I won’t get into here); but Minecraft has surprisingly continued to maintain a large user base.
Is it My Turn to Try?
So as I sit on my balcony this evening and see small groups of people walk through my neighbourhood – mostly older teens and adults this time of night (during and well past twilight) – I’m asking myself two questions: When will I try Pokémon Go? And will it let me down?