“Pokemon Go represents the deep malaise at the heart of this society.” Discuss.*
For – Benn Sheridan
My co-editor argues that Pokémon Go is a revolution in gaming, a ‘transformative experience’ which gets those otherwise inclined outdoors, blinking, into the fresh light of day. I’d be inclined to disagree, not because I don’t realise that encouraging slobbish, pale-skinned gamer stereotypes into the outside world is a wonderful thing, but because I don’t believe this is the stereotype to whom Pokémon Go really appeals.
The main USP of the game is its simple combination of nostalgia and accessibility. It tugs at the heartstrings of overworked millenials whilst at the same time fitting neatly into their busy regime. In other words, it’s designed to appeal to those already out and about, and turn non-gamers into iPhone addicts. I think this is a fundamentally dangerous phenomenon. If you disagree, walk along a busy street around lunchtime and you’ll understand what I mean: when I was out, I estimated that at least one in every four people was catching ’em all. It’s quite sad really, aside from the fact that people get lost, or mugged, or attacked. Just the sight of a quarter of the population now not only using their phone, but being used by it – modifying journey routes, talk patterns and even productivity according to the closeness of the next gym.
In the US, it’s bigger than Tinder, and about to be bigger than Twitter – it seems to have more sway than either our desire for sex or socialising. This is evidenced in problems it’s caused – which form the second reason as to why Pokémon Go should be deleted from all hapless teens’ phones immediately: it’s dangerous.
My Facebook newsfeed is clogged with videos of crowds of people – like supersized insect swarms – massing at the sides of roads and then crossing as one, disrupting the oncoming traffic. Newspapers report with glee to their dwindling readership (lost to online platforms like this perhaps) cautionary tales of players stuck in caves, or lost, or even stumbling upon a dead body. Such are players’ involvement that they forget this game has tangible and real world consequences – of which, inevitably, many will be negative. In a way, once we lose the distinction between reality and its augmentations, we lose sight of what is important…like ‘should I really go down that cave’ or ‘that car’s coming on rather fast?’. I’d hazard a guess that even the poor girl who found the dead body would have had a sudden sensation of irritation at having to cut her game short – given we’ve already witnessed news of the release of a porn parody, nothing now could surprise me.
And it’s this ubiquity that riles me most: it demands that the game come first. On asking friends for thoughts on the problems with the game, one replied ‘well, there weren’t any on Oxford Street for a start’; another, ‘I don’t like it because I’m not very good’. Unwittingly, individuals’ perceptions of the game have become intertwined with their own success, such that places are valued for their pokémon yield. Apart from Oxford Street and its pathetic Poké-haul, the game teaches us to irreverence not just famous streets, but even the areas which deserve the deepest respect. This is embodied in the Pokéstops, like the one at Ground Zero or the Holocaust Museum, which imply that the significance of these places is less their commemorative agency than the fact that I can collect a few Pokémon balls. For all they represent height of the resilience of the human spirit, their power wanes before a global, and uniform, Pokémon-induced cultural apathy…this is far more than just cannily making use of endemic digital addiction, it signals its legitimisation.
Against – Daniel Curtis
I have spent a considerable part of my Oxford career trying to maintain an outward appearance of cool or, at the very least, respectability. Whether I am believed to have succeeded or not depends on how well you know me. However, through indie music and knowledge of the creative arts, I have seemingly duped my way into having people think I am a somewhat alright guy.
I would venture a speculative guess that I am not the only one. Yet at midnight on Wednesdays on the cheese floor at Park End, all of this pretence and posturing gives way to a frenzy of childlike nostalgia with the opening blast of the Pokémon theme tune. It is the precipitator of honesty – for three blissful minutes, there is no need to pretend.
And now, that beautiful honesty has been extended to Britons everywhere with last week’s UK release of Pokémon Go; the fitness gym has been forsaken for the nearest Pokémon gym, while slovenly days inside (guilty as charged) have been forsaken for long strolls through the local surroundings. It is a truly transformative experience. Indeed, perhaps the most glaring indicator of the app’s impact is the scores of users outlining the ameliorative effect that Pokémon Go has had on their mental health: people previously fighting invisible battles keeping them from leaving the house – a PTSD-suffering war veteran, sufferers of anxiety and depression – now keenly able to escape in order to catch ‘em all.
While no way near as marked as those examples, I have found Pokémon Go to be a balm for my own depression, making the outside once again inviting when it is so much easier to stay in bed. How could one focus on the darkness of the world when there are Pokémon to catch? Having recently made it to Level Five, I can finally access Pokémon Gyms to make my first steps in the world as a trainer. As such, this tantalising prospect will only increase my game time, not reduce it. But first, I must visit the Pokéstop across the road to get some equipment… and then the hunt begins around the wilds of North East Derbyshire.
Thus, what the app has done, with a level of genius which can be attributed to the pioneers at Niantic games, is to make the world a playground once more, accessible through smartphones. To say that Pokémon Go just has more people outside with their noses buried in their phones is missing the point: if you looked around last week, or at gigs, or festivals, people are already buried in their phones to such an extent where it is genuinely becoming an epidemic – and I write that as someone who was heartbroken when their long-held high score in the Facebook Messenger basketball app was broken. In making people re-engage with the world around them, Pokémon Go uses the digital addiction of the millennial and actively rails against it, with a level of subtlety so nuanced that it’s easy to miss. Pokémon Go forces you to use your phone as a catalyst for real world exploration. Like millions around the world, I can’t wait to see where I end up.
*Quote by Magdalen second year William Rees-Mogg.