Less Pokémon, More Go?
(continued from the front page)
First, the only way to catch pokémon—that is, to win or be good at the game—is to get out in the real world and explore. Rather than see the game as compromising kids’ outdoor time, we should embrace it as a clever new carrot at the end of a stick that can encourage and even improve play outdoors. What’s more, different types of pokémon hide in specific areas, including water, grassland, or heights—some even only come out at night. These features present an enormous opportunity for creative, active play with your whole family. Indeed, Pokémon Go “leagues” have sprung up all around the U.S., instigating exertional gameplay in parks, pools, playgrounds and myriad other public spaces. How can this be a bad thing? (That will be addressed shortly.)
Second, it’s important to understand that, even if Pokémon Go itself is a fad on its way out (not likely), the technology that has given it to us is not going away. There will be countless such games of every imaginable stripe any minute now—the opportunities to survive a zombie apocalypse alone are sure to be legion. Who wouldn’t want to try Silent Hill Go, Resident Evil Go, Walking Dead Go, and on and on?
The key is to figure out ways to make Pokémon Go as active as possible. For example, teach your kids to avoid relying on the app’s “Nearby” tracking feature, which will “find” the creatures that are specifically near your current position. Encourage team play, delineate broad (but safe) geographic areas, and be sure your field of play is topographically interesting, even challenging. It is not hard to envision a hardcore, genuinely strenuous version of the game—call it Pokémon Go Extreme—that feels less like burying your head in your phone and a lot more like paintball.
Pokémon Go is new right now; this is both a good and a bad thing. Parents, this is your moment to help shape what this phenomenon becomes—what its cultural values are, in a sense. And it’s easy to see how infusing those values with a physical fitness priority can be achieved without scolding, cajoling or “bartering.” There is no need for Professor Eat-Your-Peas here: the game warrants, if not quite necessitates, lots of running around outside.
How do you win at Pokémon Go? This aspect of the game perhaps best highlights its adaptability. Folks largely set their own goals. You can simply commit to collecting the most pokémon for any given group outing. Or you can set longer, more complex goals like reaching Level 30 to become a Master Trainer.
Better still, you can try to "catch ‘em all," as the slogan goes—meaning hunting down all 150 species of pokémon available in Go (there are far more across all pokémon assets spanning two decades). Think of it as birdwatching on steroids.
The not-so positive results of the game’s newness are the growing pains that come with any novel venture: people are still testing the boundaries and pushing what’s possible to the outer limits. There is a group that meets in Venice, CA, to play Pokémon Go in their underwear (no one’s judging). Far less ambiguously, recall the two men who walked off a steep ocean bluff in San Diego, apparently having become so consumed by collecting pocket monsters that they failed to check their surroundings—to realize their surroundings, in the truest sense of that verb.
To be sure, incidents of car accidents, fisticuffs and even a few shootings have garnered plenty of media attention. Clearly, we are going to have to set up a few ground rules. But this is true of any game or sport played ad hoc out in the world. In the 1970s and 80s, yelling “car!” and shuffling out of the street and over to the curb in the middle of pickup baseball was a common occurrence in the suburbs, an aspect of unsupervised child play that sounds plenty dangerous in 2016. Today, you may be hard pressed to find a child who has ever designated a manhole cover as home plate.
And finally, even the lesser active versions of Pokémon Go can substitute for even less healthy habits. The New York Times recently did a story on the ascension of augmented reality or “slow-game” apps as “the new smoke break.” That’s a societal development worth applauding.
Will it all be around in a month? Not only yes, but more games of this kind are certainly coming. So embrace it, encourage it, enshrine within it fitness principles. Let’s create iterations of this exciting trend that better incentivize action. In short, not less Pokémon, but definitely more Go.