It’s official. “Poké-mania” has hit.
Since Pokémon Go‘s release, as reported by Brett Molina for USA Today, according to estimates from research firm SensorTower, the game has topped 15 million downloads through Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and based on usage statistics, players have spent more time, on average, per day on Pokémon Go (33 min.) than Facebook (22 min.) or Snapchat (18 min.) That’s no small potatoes. Anecdotally, I have seen my fair share of chatter about Pokémon Go on social media, and our human resources director uttered this phrase I never thought I would hear her speak in passing: “I just want to catch a Pikachu.” Accessible as a free app, the game has brought a wave of new fans into the fray, and has forced news organizations commenting on the craze to try to grasp what the heck Pokémon Go is, how you play, and why exactly it’s so popular. Despite the fact Pokémon, in its various iterations, has been around for 20 years worldwide, and should be fairly common knowledge to reporters who have small children or know a millennial. You find Pokémon. You catch Pokémon. You raise Pokémon. You battle with Pokémon. You consequently love everything about Pokémon! It’s pretty simple.
What separates Pokémon Go—aside from the purely battle-oriented format of yesteryear—from its predecessors is the mobile component of the game. Using a mix of GPS technology and your phone’s camera, you encounter Pokémon in your daily waking life, an example of what is termed augmented reality. As Wikipedia defines the term, augmented reality “is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” In the context of Pokémon Go, this means your dreary, dull existence devoid of Pokémon is now replete with a host of colorful, catchable characters which you actually have to explore your physical world to try add to your collection. In other words, your reality is enhanced, much as implants might enhance women’s breasts.
Truth be told, I don’t really think breast “augmentation” is much of an enhancement for most women. Especially when these so-called “boob jobs” make a woman’s chest so disproportionately large compared to the rest of her body or are so obviously fake that the very unnatural appearance of the female individual causes me distress. Similarly, or as best as I can make an analogy between fake tits and a game played primarily by children, some would insist that Pokémon Go isn’t much an augmentation of reality. In saying this, I speak of more than mere technical issues; critics generally have responded very well to the DIY, go-and-catch-’em-all gameplay of Pokémon Go, despite some glitches and bugs.
No, I’m talking about other reservations about the Pokémon phenomenon—and from people outside the purview of those paid (or otherwise compensated) to play and review video games. The ensuing is a partial list of these concerns, and my attempt to address them and make sense of them, where applicable:
1. “It’s a waste of time.”
Sigh—this sounds like my father. OK, so this isn’t a referendum on Pokémon Go as much as video games in general, but since the game has helped revive this classic conversation, I thought I’d address it at the start. I get it—Pokémon Go will not bring you any money, and if played too much, can cause you to be unproductive and generally negligent of higher priorities. This doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable or fun. Besides, the whole point of the game is to move around and interact with your environment, so the game is potentially both physically and socially stimulating, at least for an activity that usually requires no more exertion beyond pressing buttons with one’s thumbs and no interpersonal communication more than the absorption of programmed in-game dialogue. It also is fun for all ages and irrespective of gender; i.e. you don’t play football or shoot everything in sight.
Furthermore, where some would see a lack of financial profit as a reason to bypass this activity altogether, that a monetary reward isn’t the end game—as it so often in the real world—should be, on some level, encouraging, especially for parents. People are doing it purely for the joy of playing, and assuming they are not neglecting chores or school, or are not sniffing glue while they chase down that Charmander, this is to be lauded, I feel. On top of all of the above, do a Google search on the relationship between playing video games and the development of positive traits, such as creativity and improved hand-eye coordination, and you’ll find umpteen number of news articles on the links between these variables. See, Dad—I mean—whoever you are? Pokémon Go is a good thing!
2. “It’s a waste of battery.”
Um, OK, you may have a point there. Seriously, though, what doesn’t drain your battery life these days? If nothing else, this will inspire you to show some hustle as you fill out your legion of Pokémon. Come on, now, put some pep in your step! That Rattata isn’t going to catch itself!
3. “It’s a threat to your privacy.”
Perhaps. Upon its initial release on iOS, Pokémon Go caught some flak for requesting full access to people’s Google accounts, which reportedly will be fixed by an update offered by the game’s developer, Niantic. That said, there are still reservations about the game and its maker’s commitment to users’ privacy. Even Congress is involved now. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), for one, has expressed his concerns in a letter to Niantic’s CEO John Hanke, and is worried about how the company may be “unnecessarily collecting, using, and sharing a wide range of users’ personal information without their appropriate consent.” Franken asks specific questions of Hanke related to the types of data that are collected and how they are used. To enumerate them, in brief:
1) Is all the data Pokémon Go collects necessary for its operation, and what other purposes might this information be used for?
2) Why does the game need to access one’s contacts, control one’s phone’s vibration and prevent the phone from sleeping, among other features?
3) If some information is “unnecessary for the provision of services,” why can’t these services be opt-out instead of opt-in?
4) Who are these “third-party service providers” with whom Niantic shares users’ information?
5) Why specifically would the company need to share or sell “de-identified and aggregate data” with third parties?
6) How does Niantic let parents know about how their children’s info is collected?
7) Regarding the intended fix for requesting full access to one’s Google account, can the company verify it never collected or stored the information to which it initially had full access?
These are not unreasonable questions, and admittedly, the leading request for full access to one’s Google account does set a poor tone for respecting people’s privacy rights. My fervent hope is that John Hanke and Niantic address these inquiries forthwith (Franken has requested Pokémon Go‘s developer answer by August 12—a month from the issue of his letter), but until they do to a reasonable amount of satisfaction, it could be worth holding off on installing. Unless, that is, you’ve already installed the app. OH GOD, YOU’RE USING IT RIGHT NOW, AREN’T YOU?
4. “It’s dangerous.”
Seriously, though, what isn’t dangerous these days? Oh, so you say you’ve heard this kind of argument before. You’d like something more substantial this time around, you say. There are risks, to be sure, with playing Pokémon Go other than the real privacy concerns that surround a game with its breadth just after its release, but from what I’ve heard, they are not unlike the kinds of issues that face cellphone and Internet users more generally. Users have apparently had to be advised not to bury their heads in their phones pursuing Pokémon while walking across the street, and have been cautioned to literally refrain from playing in traffic. Warnings have also been given, preemptively or not, against gamers driving and operating Pokémon Go at the same time, trespassing on private property while on the hunt, or even risking life and limb to reach their quarry (e.g. playing near high-voltage areas trying to nab an Electric Pokémon). The same could be said for texting, at least with respect to being a pedestrian, or you know, not killing them while behind the wheel. The other aspects? Common sense, really. Don’t trespass! Don’t play near live wires! If it seems dangerous, it probably is! I can understand if young kids don’t fully comprehend the dangers of what they are doing, but without wishing harm on anyone or wanting to sound cruel, maybe those individuals who don’t apply sound judgment should be arrested or electrocuted. Just saying.
The muggings are a bit of a different story. Numerous sources have reported instances of robbers using the geolocation feature of Pokémon Go and a function known as a Lure (used to attract Pokémon) to persuade their unwitting prey to wander alone into an ambush. Certainly, I don’t wish to blame victims for being taking advantage of in this way, but as with other forms of “online” communication, users should be careful about engaging in real life with people they don’t know, and should be aware of their surroundings. There are cautionary tales to be had in the early part of this craze (and reportedly, even one or more cases of someone happening upon a dead body), but this doesn’t mean the more social aspects of Pokémon Go are inherently bad. Be safe out there—and maybe travel with a Poké Posse for added security.
5. “People are playing at the Holocaust Museum.”
Come on—nobody’s playing at the Holocaust Museum! Wait, seriously? For crying out loud, people! You shouldn’t have to be told to put away your Poké Balls at f**king Auschwitz! People do some dumb things with smartphones, let me tell you.
The privacy concerns which accompany playing Pokémon Go are definitely not to be diminished, and potential dangers for bodily safety should be given their due weight. Nonetheless, as a fun game which encourages exercise and social interaction, and which appeals to a wide audience, Pokémon Go has a lot of merit—even if it eats away at our phone’s charge. To stress, effort should be made to be alert in one’s travels, and please, don’t wander into people’s yards or loiter outside their houses.
So, yeah, stop harshing my and other people’s Poké-mellow. The world, by and large, likes the game, and its success foreshadows a future expansion into augmented reality. And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe a Staryu could sweeten the deal?