WTF is it with Pokemon Go?

First off, I’m at level 19.  A Chancey was right outside my house yesterday and I was able to catch it while sitting on my couch. I squealed a joyful success squeal when it was caught. Yep, I did that.

Secondly, I was an adult with a young pre-schooler when Pokemon came out on the DS. And even as a young teen was not very interested in the video games, while my sister went regularly to the arcade near Northgate Mall in Seattle, I saved my allowance for books or something. I don’t even remember. But I didn’t do video games at all until our parents bought us an Atari, and then I loved PacMan…That is it. The extent of video game playing in my youth.

Fast forward to more recently and I was dating a man that played World Of Warcraft. In an attempt to find things to do together, I let him teach me, and I signed up for an avatar (Night Elf Priestess) and very much enjoyed collecting sparkly herbs. But I got so tense and stressed from having to battle giant spiders and tigers that I’d give myself a headache and neck spasms. Alas, my WoW stint, and (for other reasons) the relationship, ended.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when this game appeared all over my newsfeed a day after it was launched. My husband (a gamer) got the app and showed me how it worked.
pokemon go

I was intrigued, I must admit. My knowledge of Pokemon extends to knowing about Pikachu, and that’s IT. Not even kidding. I had no idea about any of it except that little yellow guy.

So I downloaded the app, and we went for a walk. We caught little “Pocket Monsters” which is what Pokemon stands for, and found Pokestops (Pokey-stops: which are generally located at places of interest, public artwork, and at least at the park near my house, some of the memorial benches are Pokestops) and picked up Pokeballs and potions and eggs, and I learned I had an incubator that if I click a few buttons I could incubate an egg to hatch a new Pokemon for me! Each egg has a specified distance one must walk in order to hatch it: 2km, 5km or 10km.

chanseyIt was fun. We saw a bunch of others playing, and got some advice from some teenagers who were excited and enthusiastic to offer their knowledge to a couple of “old people” who were interested in what they were doing. We didn’t tell them that my husband was an expert already, it was just cool to accept their world, and their advice, and express gratitude. They walked on, looking quite pleased with themselves, happy to have helped.

I think so often we are teaching and telling our young people how and what to do, what is important, what they should be interested in and focused on, and less often – even rarely – do we enter THEIR world, and let them be the experts. So that was a particularly lovely moment.

After about a week, the horror stories started coming in: People playing INSIDE the Holocaust Museum. People playing while driving and wrapping their car around a tree. People playing and walking off a cliff (they lived). Yes. There are some idiots that play. And probably will continue to do so. There are concerns about predators and criminals playing, and luring potential victims to them, using the game. There are stories about players forcing homeless people out of the park. But I believe we will hear about the rare negative stories far more than the positive, more common stories.

Because what is also happening is that people are finding their depression and anxiety relieved. They are getting out, walking, talking and connecting with people of all different races, age groups, socio-economic statuses, which helps as much or more than medication for those mental illnesses. Also, people are picking up litter. The game is helping kids with autism, and even encouraging respectful awareness for homes near pokestops and even whether or not a homeless person is sleeping nearby. Dogs are being walked more, and for longer durations (I know our Mug and Eddie are pretty excited about this game!) But even some shelters are using the opportunity to have players come and walk the shelter dogs. And some people are even helping the homeless. Because what is happening is that with each negative story, communities of Pokemon players are coming up with ideas to counter them with positivity.

There are a lot of “haters” on the social media sites. I see many memes and comments about the young people with their heads in their devices, walking along not paying attention to anything else. I hear a lot of complaints about another digital/electronic game taking over our young people’s interest.

But I’ve seen:
1) a variety of ages playing.

2) people looking up and around and interacting with strangers when they otherwise wouldn’t. You don’t need to stare at your phone when walking, actually. It buzzes/vibrates when a Pokemon is nearby, and chimes when you come to a Pokestop, so you can walk normally and then pause when needed to play the game.

3) usually sedentary people are getting outside and being active. While Rob and I aren’t the MOST sedentary people, we certainly aren’t the most active, but since this game, we’ve walked 60 km each. Rob and I have ridden our bikes more (you can hatch eggs with the bike too, if you go leisurely enough). And I think it’s safe to say that young people that love to game have found a bridge to the greater community. Instead of forming their community online, via the game they play, and interacting with that community while sitting in a darkened room, they are now interacting with that community in real time, in the real world.

With motivation of leveling up, catching a rare Pokemon, evolving and powering up their Pokemon, and taking over gyms (centers where battles are fought and won – there are three teams: Instinct/Yellow; Mystic/Blue and Valor/Red, when you get to level 5, you pick what team you’ll play for) players are continually motivated to get outside and MOVE.

I have considered “prescribing” this game as homework for some of my clients with depression and social anxiety.

I have something in common to talk about with many people from varying backgrounds and ages and experiences. I was able to connect with a resistant teen client last week by asking if he played, and what team he was on. Having the language and knowledge provided a way for him to begin to trust me as his new therapist and that was a gift.

I completely understand the hesitancy of some adults (and even some young people) to approve of this game and who judge technology in general. It would be wonderful if we all could go out and play in the mud like we did when we were kids. But blaming the gamer kids for being interested in this type of play is misdirected, I think. Parents have concerns about letting their children play freely, and in general, parents are far too involved in their children’s play time, and social lives. Much of a child’s life now is scheduled and programmed. Technology is where they have retreated to in order to have play, take risks, make decisions on their own, find adventure and community, and have privacy away from their parents.

I think this game might be a solution. Players get outside, take responsibility for their environment, develop community, take virtual risks, and have adventure.

I don’t see what the benefit is of complaining about it. Especially from those that haven’t played.

Let’s let people enjoy stuff.

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