Technology, gaming and social media often gets a bad wrap. Zombie teens alone in their bedrooms staring at screens, people isolating themselves staring at a hand held 4 inch screen, shunning real life interactions, Kids no longer willing or able to play outdoors. All this and more has been said of digital technology.
I’ve never bought into any of it.
I am a mom to a gaming teen, I am a fan of mobile phones, social media, the internet and more. I play games myself, I use the the tools available to enhance my work life, my social life and to work with and improve my community, But I do also understand why some people who maybe don’t make the connection between the real world and virtual and how they can work hand in hand, worry about the disconnect and the social ramifications of digital technologies.
This week however Nanantic Labs released Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game based on the 20 year old Pokémon franchise. The release, which in its first week out in America has surpassed Twitters entire 65 million user for the same area, is massive. It has outstripped search results for other cultural phenomenon and it has bought the “real world” and the virtual crashing together in the most brilliant way.
The game is based on the 90s phenomenon that spawned card games, a TV show and multiple gameboy games.
Essentially you use your phone’s GPS, and a map to track and hunt Pokémon in the real world and there are set locations in your area that you can collect items from, and others that you can battle your Pokemon for after joining teams, but you have to physically be in the vicinity of them with your phone. If your phone has a gyroscope you can use your handsets camera to “see” the Pokémon in the “real” world” but you actually have to get up and leave the house to play.
I side loaded the app 5 days before the official UK release after reading some of the hype coming from the States, Australia and NZ. Stories that included examples of communities coming out to play together, local police departments engaging with players, people being galvanized into getting out and walking – and the benefits it was having to peoples mental health through both the exercise and socialising (and the stories keep on coming – I love this).
It already had a core local audience when I got it, but mainly Pokemon fans and traditional gamers. But bigger communities online were emerging both global and local as people connected with the game, so I played and waited with anticipation for the official release, I had already engaged with some of the local players, but I wanted to see what would happen when everyone else caught up – I saw the beginnings of that yesterday.
UK Release bringing people together
The app officially launched yesterday 14th July and I first hand saw some of what had been going on in America all week;
Yesterday lunch time my son and I walked to the shops, phone in hand, a group of teens coming the other way caught our eye. “Pokémon” one of them shouted. “Pokémon” we shouted back, waving our handsets in their direction. A van pulled up along side us as we passed by a “Pokéstop” rolled down its window and the driver began to play, he looked at me sheepishly and smiled, I smiled back and went on our way.
Last night I went to the supermarket, I deliberately parked where I could see what I knew to be an active Pokémon area, with multiple “stops” and 2 “gyms” in walking distance. I spent a while watching as a group of teens walked around the area, to the casual observer aimlessly, but with the map open I could see they were looping around the Pokéstops. As I watched (and caught a few Pokémon of my own) a car pulled in besides me and a young girl got out and walked over to the nearest stop, I sat and listened as a conversation took place between her and the wandering teens and what was obvious was that some of these kids had never met before but were working together to capture the Gym – the lone girl joined in with their group and was all smiles, Her dad (or at least that who I assume it was) who was still in the car grinned as his young daughter made new friends.
In the store I overheard some of the staff were giving a colleague some gentle ribbing for hunting while on her cigarette break, to which her retorts, while said in jest, said a lot – “I’ve walked further today than I have in years” and as I left a Mom and young son were sitting together on the benches, he actively instructing his Mom how to battle in the app.
And that’s not all, I got home to find that the local Pokémon Wolverhampton group were arranging a met for that night in West Park, and were actively encouraging solo players along to buddy up with people of the same teams so that they wouldn’t be alone, The Community Centre I help to run is next door to gym, so we’re trying to make the most of it and we are planning on hosting a Pokéhunt, using out location as a charging station and base so that younger players can come together to hunt safely
So in one short week, and only 1 day after the official UK release this mobile game and franchise has bought people and communities together, it is getting people out of the house and exploring their neighbourhoods, it getting people on their feet and walking, making new friends and offering up marketing opportunities. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this can be optimised upon before the initial excitement dies down, and more importantly what comes next as we learn that our communities aren’t big scary places, and technology doesn’t have to be the death of social as people play together. But for now you’ll have to excuse me as my mobile has just told me that there’s a Jigglypuff somewhere local, and you know, I gotta catch ’em all.