Social Battle #5: Pokémon GO!

It seem quite common now to hear arguments claiming that digital technology, the Internet and social media is disconnecting individuals from society and physical interactions. As social psychologist Sherry Turkle argues, many of the relationships we build over social networks provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship [and] without the demands of intimacy.” While social media has offered the individual an ability to connect with pretty much whoever they want, whenever they want and wherever they want, we appear far too satisfied with closing ourselves off from the physical world and maintaining our relationships through digital technology.

Enter Pokémon GO, which its supporters are claiming is actually helping reconnect people with the physical world – providing real-life positive, healthy benefits. By optimising the use of augmented reality and GPS, the game forces players to actively move around, searching far and wide. Furthermore, some have noted how the game has actually encouraged users (or should we say teams) to meet in person, while it also appears that cleverly positioned Pokémon in galleries and museums could help engage people with cultural activities.

Yet it isn’t all positives news, as more-and-more stories emerge of accidents being caused due to people losing concentration while playing the game (everything from getting lost to crashing a car into a tree to falling off a cliff). In many ways this highlights how the game is still encouraging players to just stare at the screen – a point which Daniel Disselkoen, a digital artist with Rotterdam-based creative agency Headmade, is looking to counter with his own game (involving a cartoon animal stuck on the window of a bus) that aims to fully detach commuters from their smartphone devices.  

So what should we make of Pokémon Go? Is it the first-step in perfectly blending the digital world and our physical environment for positive means, or do we (as Disselkoen would argue) actually need to resist using games like Pokémon Go, and find more time in the day to be free from technology?

“If there’s an option to get out of the house and socialize while still playing games, I am embracing it”


Focusing on the influence on individuals – and not economic gains for small and big business -, Pokemon Go (and other games to come using the same technology) can bring a layer of health and social benefits for the gaming and entertainment industries.

Gaming is here to stay and grow: 4.8% CAGR globally from now until 2020 is forecasted by PWC. In the US, the video game industry will grow quicker than other sectors of entertainment, such as TV and Video, Music, Cinema and books.

If there’s an option to get out of the house and socialize while still playing games, I am embracing it.

In terms of health, with Pokémon GO gamers are engaging in physical exercise more than if they were sitting down playing. The side effect of exercise is that it can also improve people’s mood and decrease feelings of depression.

Complementing the health side, and still important for keeping up the mood, is the social element of the game. Although gamers play on their own mobiles, people form groups to play it, while exploring their own city, regaining ownership of it, discovering new landmarks and getting to know more about people with face to face interactions.

My father used to play outdoors games all the time. When I was a kid in Brazil, I used to play football on the streets everyday. Unfortunately, I don’t see many kids playing on the same streets nowadays – and this is happening in other parts of the world too.

So it’s a pleasure to see gamers coming outside to play.

“The constantly growing obsession with technology, and more recently, with virtual reality, is slowly but surely leading us to a new “virtual world””

REUP_FBAD_023The craze around Pokémon Go just shows how far we’ve come: now, we need to look through the lens of our smartphones to be motivated to go outside (whether it be in parks or museums), looking for creatures that do not exist.

The launch of Pokémon Go is the ultimate proof that we’ve become lazy. Too lazy to move from our comfort zones perhaps, but mainly, too lazy to make the effort of building social ties. More and more, the challenges we are willing to face are not against others, but against the machine, and against things that do not exist. To be fair, playing against virtual things is much easier, you can stop whenever you want to! It’s sad though, we become passive in front of our screens (although yes, we would indeed run to catch Mewtwo!).

I do feel like a grandma saying this, but we all spend our days in front of computers, and when we leave work or school, this game encourages us to play on our smartphones. Could this be another step in the decline of human relationships?

Also, the constantly growing obsession with technology, and more recently, with virtual reality, is slowly but surely leading us to a new “virtual world” that is made of nothing tangible, that does not exist, and that is shaped by a small group of people. We are becoming slaves of virtuality, of something that we do not have control over.

A question that has been raised also, is whether Pokémon GO will represent an additional risk that we have to take into account in our daily lives. Should we expect more road accidents, for instance?

Last but not least, I am concerned about the loss of space for imagination. When we were kids, there was something magical about inventing Pokéballs made of paper or tennis balls, pretending to catch Magikarp (which was actually simply a fish)! Inventing games like Pokémon GO means less space for imagination – as the game already exist, why re-invent it?

At the end of the day, chances are that this Pokémon GO madness is a trend, that will tone down eventually. After all, people experienced a similar kind of craziness when Facebook became popular, and now it has become part of our lives, and is just a platform among other things, we no longer spend our lives on it.

Just kidding, I LOVE Pokémon GO!!!


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