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In defence of Pokémon GO

So you think Pokémon GO is pretty stupid? Perhaps you’ve even indicated your dislike online and ripped into those who are poké-intoxicated?  Comedian and actor James Roque stands firm and argues there’s a place and a need for the digital monster collecting diversion. 

Last week, Pokémon GO was released and the world went nuts. For those of you who don’t know what that is (because you either don’t care, or are over 45 and use two thumbs when typing on a smartphone), it’s an app that allows you to capture little monsters in the real world thanks to GPS tracking and augmented reality software. In other words, you have to go outside your house to find the little guys. It’s not a game you can play sitting on your couch while Making A Murderer plays on your TV.

The response to Pokémon GO has been overwhelmingly positive both locally and internationally, with a sharp rise in fully grown adults wandering around neighbourhoods looking for Pokéstops.

A candid shot of people in a park engaging with the the 21st century's first mass hallucination.

A candid shot of people in a park getting all Pokéy on it. Yo.

All forms of social media have been swarmed with people celebrating the new Pokémon they’ve caught or the new gym they’ve just taken over. Facebook pages for local Pokémon GO players have been set up, memes have been shared and it’s even had national mainstream news coverage, being on the front pages of both the nzherald.co.nz and Stuff.co.nz sites for the last couple of days. Kiwis have really embraced the Pokébug. Most of them anyway.

Like any popular thing that comes along there is also a lot of people who reject or even hate Pokémon GO and everything it stands for. Hell, some of you reading this are probably part of that group, and that’s cool and all, but here is where my issue lies.

Now, full disclosure: I love Pokémon. I grew up with the Gameboy games, watched the anime, owned t-shirts, got the trading cards, bought books and now I tell jokes about them onstage. They’re a part of my life and my identity, and even though in recent times being busy with a career meant I had less time to invest in catching Jigglypuffs and Lucarios, they always will be. I still buy and play the new games, even if it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the number of Pokémon that now exist.

As a kid I remember being on the playground and talking about Pokémon all lunch time. We would all sit around and talk about which Pokémon we’d caught, how to catch rare ones, and brag to each other about how we managed to do the impossible in the game. A friend / lying acquaintance of mine (who for the purpose of this we’ll call Brandon) once told our group that he caught a Scyther in the Safari Zone in Pokémon Blue, which was a total lie because Scythers were exclusive to Pokémon Red. But gullible 10 year-old James went home and spent two days looking for a Scyther in the Safari Zone. If you’re reading this Brandon, I will never forgive you.

Which brings me back to the the anti-Pokemon Go crowd. The negative responses to the app have been varied, ranging from “this is stupid” to people flat out telling others to kill themselves if they’re playing the game. A lot of it has been the usual online vitriol but some of these people are who I would consider to be my friends and work colleagues, which makes some of the vile comments harder to stomach. A colleague of mine tweeted that if you’re over 21 and you’re playing Pokémon Go that you should “freely walk into traffic”. It’s hard shit to read.

crypika001

For those of you who hate this thing with an undying passion, this is what I say:

Look, I get it. I dislike bandwagons and fads just as much as the next guy (honestly the Pokémon GO hype will probably die down in a couple of weeks), but I struggle to see your case against this game reaching beyond “I don’t like it, so you are stupid for liking it” or “it’s annoying”. Which, to be honest, makes you sound like an old man, sitting on a porch yelling at kids because they’re having fun near your house with something you can’t understand. “You damned kids! Get off my lawn! Also kill yourself!”

Cool.

In saying that, I’ll concede that there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to like the game. It lowers productivity, can be distracting to drivers and it has people venturing off into places by themselves at night. These are some I can rattle off the top of my head. They are legitimate concerns, and all I can say is that it’s up the users to use the app responsibly.

For me though, the good outweighs the bad tenfold. I can name a slew of positive effects Pokémon GO can have on people, which are easy to overlook if you’re sitting too high up on your high-Horsea (sorry).

Firstly, the app’s power to bring people together and form a bond through the love of hunting for Pokémon. Since the game came out I’ve been scouring the Pokémon GO Reddit page reading about people’s experiences with the app. The page is filled with stories of friends who met at Pokéstops who otherwise would have never made any contact whatsoever. Pictures like this one of a diverse group of trainers forming at a Pokéstop or this one of a father and son setting up a lemonade stand for Pokémon GO players, would not have been possible without the app. I’ve had my own experiences like this too. The other day at a Pokéstop at the Western Springs Raceway, I was walking around trying to find a Slowpoke. That’s when I was approached by a group of three young guys. Just when I thought I was about to be beaten up, one of them said “Hey bro, are you looking for the Slowpoke? It’s over there.” I said thanks, we bro-shaked, wished each other a good day and went our separate ways. I’ve also had countless conversations with mates about small interactions like this one that they’ve had, and how great it is to feel like you can relate to someone even when you don’t know them.  This app is literally bringing people together.

Second, it’s making you exercise! Like I said, you can’t play this game sitting down on your couch (effectively, anyway). In order to catch ‘em all, you have to be outside and active. Plus in case you were thinking of cheating, there’s an egg hatching mechanic in the game that forces you to go for walks. That can only be a good thing, right?

Third, it’s genuinely helping people with their mental health. It is scientifically proven that going outside, getting sunlight and going for a walk can help people struggling with depression. Countless people online are reporting that the app has actually helped improve their mental health because they now enjoy going outside to collect Pokémon.

Personally I can testify to how effective this game is to helping with depression. It’s not something I tell a lot of people, but I suffer from a depression that comes in and out in very heavy waves. I usually like to keep this part of my life private and distract everyone with my hair, but I think this is as good a place as any to tell people. Because of this game, I have gone on more hour-long walks in the last three days than I have in the last year. It’s given me a reason to go outside and has improved my mood and outlook. Plus, I get to play Pokémon! Talk about a win-win.

I could go on, but those are the main three reasons for me.

There’s also the issue that some people have with the number of “grown adults” from ages 20-30 playing the game. That its a kids game and only children should be playing it. That if you are in your 20’s and you’re playing it, you’re trying to “keep up with the times” and “stay relevant”. Now, on paper you might sound correct, but you fail to take into account that while Pokémon is targeted at children, the first Pokémon games were released 17 years ago in 1999. When the majority of the “grown adults” playing the game now were…you guessed it, children. In fact, it would be weirder for people under 20 to be playing the game because they would’ve been three years old or non-existent when the first Pokémon wave happened and would not have been able to tell the difference between Pikachu and this thing.

Pikachu portrait by James Roque age 9

Pikachu portrait by James Roque age 9

Look, if you don’t like the game, that’s fine. If you think we look silly in our little groups huddled around talking about Potions and complaining about Zubats that’s fine too. All I’m asking for is for you to understand that this game is bringing happiness to people. Simple. To understand that we’ve been wanting to do this since we were little kids and this is literally a version of our dreams coming true. I’m not saying you have to try it (though you really should because I think you’d love it, I know heaps of people who have back-pedalled on hating it), just don’t be a dick about it and acknowledge that it’s not your cup of tea. And certainly don’t tell people – especially since they might have actual depression – to kill themselves.

Yesterday, I went for a walk up to the summit of Mt Eden for the first time after living in New Zealand for 16 years. I was having a wave of anxiety at home so I drove to Mt Eden and walked up the hill to catch some Pokémon. While I was there I met a young couple who were also up there hunting. We talked for a while, shared tips on how to get better at the game and stuff like that. Eventually we started talking about what they did for a living and where they were from before they moved to NZ. I got to know them fairly well. What stuck out to me was how the girl kept going on about how happy she was that she caught an Aerodactyl while walking up the hill. She was really genuinely happy and I reckon with the world being such a grim place sometimes, that’s not such a bad thing.


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