Pokemon Go: Why We Need It
I recently texted a friend of mine saying “its all just too much”.
I wasn’t talking about my workload, the recent episode of stranger things or my feelings towards the heat wave we've just been hit with. I was talking about current world events.
With terror attacks in Europe, countries threatening civil war, political unrest both in the UK and the US, its all just become too much. And I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. When I speak to colleagues, family, peers and young people there is a common sense of despair. Many of us are trying to do our bit by petitioning, voting, and using our voice, but our proaction doesn’t always take away that weight of sadness.
I don’t think that it is any coincidence that in this climate, Pokemon Go has become so popular.
For those of you who are still asking "poke-what!?” here is a brief explanation. Since its release in the UK on 14th July, the gaming app Pokemon Go has quickly become the most downloaded game app ever, with over 30 million downloads, and 26 million people using it every. single. day. Pokemon Go is, in essence, a game where reality is augmented through your phone, so you will see a Pokemon character just floating next to your local Sainsburys. Users are encouraged to travel around to find these Pokemon, catch and collect them. For more information, please speak to nearly any 16-19 year old.
So, back to the issue at hand; why the correlation between social and political unrest, and this app going viral?
I think that the reason for its popularity, is that for many young people, it has become a necessary escapism. They are surrounded by social media and an incoming stream of really heartbreaking news. Subconsciously or not, I think it’s only so long before they need a break, a reprieve. Pokemon Go touches on the nostalgia of a brand they grew up with when life was less bleak. It provides a community where discussion is based around "levelling up", and "who caught what?”, not “another terror attack”, and “another US riot”. It gives young people something to focus on when life becomes just too much to bear.
But as with most things, with its rocketing popularity comes a surge of critique. The most common of these I’ve heard is that young people using it are wasting their time, spending too long using the app, and need to focus on more important things in life.
I don’t think the answer to the situations we are facing across the world, is to simply stick our heads in the sand forever. Nor do I believe that escapism is always the right answer. But I do believe that our young people are growing up in an incredibly tense climate, and need space and time to switch off. If Pokemon Go is a way for them to create mental and emotional balance, then I am all for it.
Maybe Pokemon Go could be an opportunity for us to talk to our young people about social, moral, spiritual and cultural issues. Asking them how the app makes them feel? If it helps them to destress? Whether it distracts them too much from the real world? Have they met any new people through playing the game? What other things help them to unwind? How long do they think Pokemon Go will stay popular? Which is their favourite Pokemon and why?
Rather than simply brush off this app as another fad, or incriminate it as something terrible, lets use the app to talk to them about things that matter. Let’s engage with this app, to engage with our young people.
If you do/have had any interesting conversations with a young person about Pokemon Go let us know in the comments below!