The initial Pokemon craze peaked in North America in 1998, while I was at the prime age for it. Eight-year-old me, however, was presumably too focused on learning the lyrics to NSYNC songs to care. That’s right folks, I have never played a Pokemon game. It is my secret cultural shame as a child of the ‘90s, but it just never sparked my interest. All I know about the franchise is that there’s a yellow rabbit-eared thing named Pikachu and you’re supposed to imprison him and his fellow alien monster things in some sort of ball, like a less cool version of Ghostbusters trapping ghosts. I could be wrong here but I don’t care enough to Google these pertinent facts.
Whatever this game is about, I know it is insanely popular right now. People are making new friends and even going on dates thanks to this app. Many people who deal with issues like depression and anxiety have reported that playing the game gives them a reason to leave the house. That’s cool I guess, but I am skeptical about the whole thing.
However, as I witness my friends and coworkers fall deeper into the current Pokemon hype, I am curious to see what this game is all about and why it has surpassed other mobile apps like Tinder in popularity.
In the name of investigative journalism, I downloaded the app and gave it a whirl. My first creature was a cute little dragon somewhat eerily hanging around inside my house. It took me way too long to figure out what to do since the game offers zero instructions. Eventually, I managed to catch it, which judging by the game’s tagline is the entire goal. Am I having fun yet?
At this point, I was unsure about the appeal of the game and I promptly forgot about it when I closed the app. I made my way around town running errands without once stopping to check if I was surrounded by invisible Japanese monsters. Several hours later, I was reminded of the app again while at a friend’s house. A pointy-headed caterpillar had appeared in their kitchen, so we caught the caterpillar and continued on with our lives. It was thrilling, truly.
Later on while taking a stroll through a local park, I opened the app again and was greeted by all kinds of sparkly dancing icons on the map around me. I had entered some sort of Pokemon city, apparently. After some random tapping, the game rudely informed that I wasn’t good enough at Pokemon-ing to go visit a Pokemon gym yet. I don’t know what a Pokemon gym is, but I imagine it as some sort of exclusive pickup spot where only the most ripped monsters were allowed to go mingle with other attractive monsters.
I didn’t have long to ponder the elitist Poke-gym culture before a pink cat-lemur named Slowpoke materialized in my path. I stopped walking to focus on hitting it, but after missing several times, the app gently suggested I should try walking. I don’t generally allow apps to tell me what to do, but it occurred to me that I looked like an idiot standing in the center of a walkway wildly flicking at my phone, so I walked on, still concentrating on hitting this stupid pink thing. It was after I veered off the path and nearly walked into a tree that I suddenly understood all the news stories of people getting hit by cars and even stepping off of cliffs while playing this game. This s*** is dangerous! I gave up on the pink cat, closed the app and ended this shameful yet brief period of my life for good.
Once I was paying attention to the world around me instead of the virtual world in my hand, I was amazed at what I had failed to notice earlier. Several people in their mid-20s were clumped together nearby, slowly shuffling around with their full attention directed at their phones. It was like a scene from the show Black Mirror. These people were standing just a few feet apart from each other in complete silence, not talking or even looking up. It was unclear whether they even noticed that there were other people around. I debated whether to go talk to them and ask some hard-hitting questions like, “What the hell is wrong with you people?” But I thought it was best to observe and not disturb the natural order of things. I was Jane Goodall, and they were my gorillas.
After a few minutes of this weird silent dance, some of them finished up and started to leave. I watched three people walk back to the parking lot at the same time, still not acknowledging the others, and get into their separate vehicles. I won’t judge the fact that they drove to the park to shuffle around in a 5-foot radius, because it was honestly hot as hell outside, but it is worth noting since one of the main features of the app is that it encourages you to get off your ass and walk around.
One girl was still glued to her phone as she made her way towards the playground, where I could see a few parents sitting on benches staring at their phones while their kids ran around. They could have just as easily been staring at Instagram as Pokemon, but it was a weird juxtaposition to see children, the primary audience for games like this, unplugged and enjoying some time on the jungle gym, while being “supervised” by adults who were blatantly not paying attention to anything around them.
All of the reasons that people rave about Pokemon Go did not hold up under the scrutiny of a hater like me. It wasn’t fun, it didn’t really seem to be getting people to walk more, and it was clearly not encouraging social interactions despite physically bringing people together. Simply standing near another person while you both play the same game on your respective mobile devices does not count as socializing.
In conclusion, my completely objective and unbiased opinion is that Pokemon sucks. Turn off your phones and go for a monster-free walk.
For those of you who are not Pokémon haters, check out our guide on how to play here.