For the past few weeks, I have felt the need to glance at people’s phones when I walk around places and see others holding a mobile device in their hands. Although somewhat intrusive, my curiosity for finding out who’s playing Pokémon Go is greater than my sense of containment.
Very few people have not yet heard about the new phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. Launched in most regions of the world in July–and developed by Niantic under the direction of CEO John Hanke, a University of Texas alum–Pokémon Go is an augmented reality mobile game based on the 1990s anime series. The show is centered on fictional creatures called “Pokémon,” which humans catch and train to battle each other for sport. The new location-based game allows real humans to capture, battle and train pocket monsters, which appear on mobile device screens as though in real life.
What could have been yet another mobile game has turned out to be a huge success across various generations, cultures, race and genders within the first weeks of its release. Owning a third of the Pokémon Company, Nintendo saw market value gains increase by $7.5 billion two days after the game was launched. Pokémon Go has broken all kinds of records, from being installed on more than five percent of Android devices in the U.S. just within two days of its release (as reported by web analytics firm SimilarWeb) to surpassing the Candy Crush Saga as one of the most used smart device apps within days.
Like most things in life, Pokémon Go comes with both advantages and disadvantages. The most positive aspect about the game is that it incentivizes users to walk around different areas in their cities and communities in search of Pokémon, Pokéballs and other items. Players must also walk a certain number of kilometers–yes, Americans are being forced to learn the metric system–to hatch eggs that contain Pokémon and other goodies. Yet Pokémon Go has also caused some controversy as some users are committed to doing whatever necessary to catch ’em all–from playing and driving to venturing into private property. There have been some unusual stories related to the game, including a 19-year-old girl who found a dead body while searching for water Pokémon in Wyoming and armed robbers using the game to lure lone players in isolated places in Missouri.
Ultimately, Pokémon Go has given us something fun to talk about in the middle of a period with predominantly negative news headlines–terrorist attacks around the world, shootings everywhere, violence against African Americans, dead police officers, Donald Trump’s negative campaign rhetoric and more. While it is critical that we continue to stay informed about the social issues that shape the course of history, there should always be time for a little distraction. After all, celebrating the things that unite us is just as critical as pointing out what needs to change to make this world a better place.