Friday, July 22, 2016

The Social Side of Pokemon Go

Ooh, there's a Poke Gym near here!
Everyone has been all aflutter about Pokemon Go lately, so much so, that I actually decided to try it. A little background: I've been through some periods in my life where I obsessively played Space Invaders, Super Mario, Sim City, & a few puzzle type games on my phone, but I'm not much of a gamer. I was aware of the Pokemon franchise--how could you not be?--but had never watched the cartoon or played the game.

When I discovered that you could just download the app for free & that they had an Android version, I was ready to give it a go. I thought it might be a fun thing to do with Linnaeus occasionally. The Pokemon hunting isn't violent--when you spot one, you toss Pokeballs at it. Hitting near enough your target magically makes it disappear into the ball, to be catalogued into your Pokedex. You can also go to Pokegyms & fight Pokemon. I haven't actually tried this yet--just got past level 5 where I'm eligible--but I'm told the best strategy is to just repeatedly stab your finger at your phone screen.

Common Sense Media has a thorough review of Pokemon Go, giving it just three stars out of five, mainly for privacy & safety concerns. I'm not particularly worried that someone will track us via Pokemon, or that we'll get 'lured' to a site & mugged, but I think the security of the information you use to sign up is somewhat concerning. I hope the company sorts that out in the near future. I have signed up myself, & I don't plan to set up an account for either of my children. We'll play together on my phone--that's enough.

Another aspect that I like about it is the accessibility: designed to be played on a touch screen smart phone, which so many people already have. There is no expensive video game system to buy, no controllers. You can spend money to buy things in the game, but this isn't necessary to experience all aspects of the game.

Where I think Pokemon Go really shines is  that you have to actually go outside & walk around to make the game work. I don't think it's going to solve North America's obesity epidemic, but it can't hurt to get in a few more steps a day. I also disagree with the criticisms that this game creates 'smart phone zombies'. My experience using it has been that we've talked to more people that we usually would out in public, because we keep seeing other people playing.

My Pokedex so far
Oliver has had a few conversations with strangers & gotten some tips on how different aspects of the game work. Because there isn't much of a tutorial or any game book that comes with it, you need to figure it out as you go along, or do a lot of Googling. The other people we've talked to seem eager to share tips--the opacity of the game play actually makes it more social, I think.

Yesterday, I stopped on our way home from summer school to grab some free Pokeballs from a Pokestop on the bike path. Another mom & her daughter on a cargo bike were doing the same & we stopped to chat, immediately realizing that we knew each other from the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group. Christine has had the same experience as we have, talking with other people who are playing the game. She & I actually chatted for quite a while, & decided that we need to plan a Pokemon Go Bike Ride. Stay tuned for the details in the Vancouver Family Biking group...

The downsides to the game are that it's still in beta version so it can be a bit slow. I've discovered that the most popular time seems to be about 1-3pm (Pacific Daylight Time), which means the game is so slow you can't really play. This has been quite frustrating because I have tried to do a "Pokewalk" with Linnaeus after school three days running & the app hasn't worked every single time. Later at night seems like a great time to play--too late for the kids, unfortunately--but there are tons of people leaving lures & hanging out in the parks around here catching Pokemon.

Another potential negative is that there is a huge marketing machine behind the Pokemon franchise & familiarity with Pokemon world makes kids want to buy their branded stuff. I'm expecting Linnaeus to start demanding Pokemon themed toys & clothes any time now. The game uses GPS for location, your camera when you catch a Pokemon (though you can disable this if you like) plus it uses quite a lot of data. If you have an older phone, your battery may not survive too much playing.

There are already some savvy organizations & businesses capitalizing on the attraction of Pokemon Go, as mentioned by my friend Leigh in an interesting short piece in the Climate Examiner. The concept of augmented reality that the game uses during the Pokemon hunting is really interesting too--Leigh found some research on how this could potentially be used to improve people's habits around conservation.

Overall, I like the game & will keep playing it. How about you? Have you tried the game yet?What do you like or dislike about Pokemon Go? 

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