Pokemon GO. It’s inside out.
It’s been hard not to bump into PokemonGO this last week, whether online, in the media, out in the street, even on the platform of Preston station where new safety notices seemed to appear last week.
It has to be tried
We tried it out on a walk around our village and nearly bumped into many other strangers out chasing monsters up the footpath, down by the canal and round the back of the pub. And let’s just say I didn’t think they were the usual footpath tramping, canal side loitering crowd.
If you read this blog regularly you’ll know we’re not anti technology, in fact we embrace it in many ways. But I find it hard to know what to make of this app.
It’s definitely doing some great things – encouraging people to be active and get outdoors, helping people explore new places and meet others too. And it’s very clever too. It does all that without telling them to. An implicit, fun and motivating prescription to get out and exercise.
It’s been great reading those stories of people that haven’t left their desktop for years venturing out at last. Of kids begging parents (who normally have to nag them to get off the screen and out of the house) if they can voluntarily go outside to play. And of parents and kids teaming up to go hatching, ending up doing a 5k fun run. At the level of getting out, being active and doing stuff together, this app seems amazing. It’s all good stuff. Incredible actually, if you stop to think about it.
More in a week than years of campaigning
A lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to encourage more exercise, outdoor play and time in nature and yet it appears this game has had more impact in a couple of weeks than they have in years.
We know exercise is an antidote to obesity. We know being and playing outdoors is essential for healthy child development. Doctors, policy makers, public health professionals and campaigners have been telling us this for years, pushing, encouraging, cajoling and trying to persuade us to do more, mostly with relatively little effect. Then along comes PokemonGO and almost instantly there are swarms on the street.
Of course there are problems with it too; like kids kayaking out to sea, people stumbling into crime scenes, smombies swarming and allegations of surveillance capitalism. Personally I didn’t find it a particularly rewarding experience. Sure, it was fun. It added a little something extra to our usual walking route. But I was chasing things on a screen, not noticing the flowers, the sunset, the sweet smell of a summer’s evening. Not talking to my partner, connecting with them, myself or the real world but with a virtual Sprite.
It was like I was taking the inside outside, driven by an app not by my own conscious choice to get up, get out and be active. And somehow, while I applaud the outcomes, that seems back to front, upside down and the wrong way around.
Am I missing the point?
But perhaps focusing on that misses a bigger, more important point: that irrespective of how it does it, and even if these outcomes are unintended, even if it is just a money making machine for Nintendo or surveillance capitalism, PokemonGO may still be doing good for society.
If public health professionals had designed this as an intervention we might be applauding them for increasing activity, reducing obesity, improving mental health and community building. And if they could show they were doing all that while earning money to reinvest in public health services we’d think they were miracle workers.
So maybe it is just a silly game. But isn’t there also a lesson somewhere here for us all in the power of well designed games to engage and contribute to positive change? As parents we all know play is a force for good. As adults we sometimes forget that and dismiss it instead of joining in and trying to help make the game a better one for everyone. Without taking over or spooling the fun of course!