I wasn’t part of the pre-Pokemon Go hype. I was vaguely aware that it was happening, but I wasn’t actually planning to download it. In fact, I did it on a whim to make my friends in England jealous, since the game wasn’t out yet. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve made of recent.
All over the Internet, I’ve seen stories of people’s amazingly positive experiences with this game. People post reminders on social media, telling their friends to take water with them while they play the game, to play in groups after dark, everyone trying to ensure their friends’ safety. And strangers stop each other on the street and strike up conversation rather than just silently passing by. In one of my first few days playing the game, I was outside the Rec Center trying to catch a Poliwag when a guy walked past and shouted “I hope you catch it!” A moment later, he caught one too, and we both congratulated each other and compared our new catches before moving on.
Despite the criticisms of the older generation that young people are constantly on their phones and never talk to anyone, the truth is that Pokemon Go is helping young people be more social, not less. People with depression and social anxiety are leaving the house and feeling more comfortable striking up conversations with strangers. There are already stories circulating about people who have met new friends or partners through playing the game.
Not to mention, Pokemon Go is actually good for businesses. Coffee shops have been purchasing Pokecoins in bulk and placing lures on their Pokestops to attract more customers excited to catch the Pokemon within, and it’s already been proven that the increased revenue that these coffee shops see far outweighs the cost of Pokecoins. It costs around $10 to buy enough coins to lure Pokemon to a stop for a full day, and businesses are reporting anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent increased sales.
Personally, I think one of the main contributing factors of the game’s success is that it’s not inherently competitive. Although players are encouraged to pick one of three teams and to battle each other for control of ‘gyms’, this is not a mandatory part of the game. It’s perfectly possible to use the game purely to go outside, get exercise and collect Pokemon. And, if a group of people are out playing the game together and stumble across a Pokemon, they don’t fight over it. It appears separately on everyone’s phones, meaning that they can all succeed and all celebrate each other’s success. This creates a culture where everyone is cheering each other on, encouraging both friends and strangers alike, and in my opinion this is what defines the the positive experience associated with the game.
There are definitely downsides to the game, too. Just days after the game came out, I heard about a friend of mine who stopped her car in the middle of the street while driving so that she could catch a Horsea. There have also been reports of people trespassing on private property while chasing after Pokemon and generally putting themselves in danger, caught up in the excitement of the new game. Also, the game is only available for smartphones, which means that there will always be people who cannot afford the latest technology who will be left out of something supposedly accessible to everyone. And, of course, there are always going to be people in the world who use the game to hurt people, placing a lure on a nearby Pokestop to attract victims.
However, while they cannot be discounted, these people are very much in the minority. Overall, the majority of people are playing respectfully, looking out for their fellow players and possibly even setting a precedent for video games becoming a more sociable and active pastime in general.