A recent issue of TIME Magazine (a magazine I usually like) ran a small article about Pokémon Go. In an article describing how the game “shows the unnerving future of augmenting reality,” writer Matt Vella describes players in Prospect Park as “a dozen people shuffling about haphazardly, their zombie eyes fixed on glowing phone screens.”
Honestly, I shouldn’t be too surprised. This is the same publication that ran a cover article about how millennials (ie: me) are entitled and narcissistic; Pokémon Go is more smart-phone enabled shenanigans. But that this article essentially dismisses the game is frustrating. Because yes, Pokémon Go is another game, but it’s position as a augmented reality game makes it something really special.
The open-endedness of games like Mass Effect make comparing notes with other players a lot of fun. Who did you romance? What did you save? Red, blue, or green? Your choices in the game give you a common ground. Same with discussing responses to The Last of Us or describing that great moment you had in Halo. Video games create (virtual) experiences and memories. Like any memory, these then become things you talk about.
But Pokémon Go exists in the real world. You don’t catch a Seel in the Seafoam Islands, you catch a Seel in Battery Park. You don’t hatch eggs by walking from Cerulean City to Vermillion City over and over again, you do so by walking to work and back. That gym doesn’t exist in your GameBoy, it’s the Washington Square Arch.
Because of this, those memories become physical. My brother and I roamed the East Village together looking for Pokémon, glued to our phones, yes, but also talking and enjoying the outdoors. The outdoors outside, in the real world. In other words, Pokémon Go makes the very act of walking into an adventure. The game augments reality itself (hence the whole AR genre) into a game.
That Pokémon Go exists in the real world is part of its beauty. Players have to go outside to catch Pokémon, collect items, and challenge gyms. So folks are going to parks, museums, and zoos to find Pokémon. Yes, on their phones, but actually out there.
With the game comes a community, one that, in my experience, has been remarkably positive. Stopping at Astor Place to take over a gym and catching someone’s eye, knowing we’d worked together to claim it in the name of Team Valor. Or striking up a conversation with someone at the Garibaldi Statue Pokéstop where someone used a lure. Then there’s my Facebook feed starting to look more and more like a schoolyard conversation about where to find Pokémon and whose is the best.
Pokémon which, remember, you find in the real world.
Look, I’m twenty-five; smack-dab in the middle of Generation Y. I’m one of those who grew up with the internet and social media. We’re those who see technology not as something to be scared but by which we’ll save the world. Pokémon Go, though probably not quite that extreme, exists within that vein. For all the stories of players finding dead bodies in rivers and falling off cliffs, there are many more about the game helping people deal with anxiety or depression and stories of it providing an avenue of social interaction for autistic kids. You can complain all you want about phone-addled Millennials, but a fear of AR as a harbinger of awfulness is unfounded.
‘cuz this present is the future.
And it’s wonderful.