Whether or not you’re a player, by now you’ve at least heard of Pokémon Go. The augmented reality app was developed by Niantic and made successful thanks to Nintendo’s Pokémon, a game the corporation first released in the mid 1990s. Pokémon have remained an ace for the Nintendo Company by catering to the nostalgic feelings of millennials. However, with the game’s release a fierce internet debate about the game surfaced. People love to be a stick in the mud. Suddenly two to three paragraph long Facebook statuses appear about ‘how stupid it is’ and the accusing tone about how it’s ‘so unproductive.’ My position on most everything is don’t bash it until you’ve tried it.
I downloaded Pokémon the day after it was released in Canada. It’s not difficult to set up; most users run Pokémon through their Google account. You get a brief guide at the beginning and then you’re off, searching for wild Pokémon, Pokémon stops and Pokémon gyms! A few notes on etiquette I think are important: Many photos floating around the internet encourage folks to drop lures at hospitals, when in fact medical staff at said hospitals have rebuked the idea, saying that the distraction can interfere with medical treatment and cause great disappointment for children who cannot leave their beds to search for Pokémon. People have been reportedly chased off private property, and organizations like the Canadian Correctional Service have stated that players caught on their grounds are actually trespassing. Physically disabled users have also raised concerns about the inaccessibility, such as being required to move to catch Pokémon. The game forces users to walk to the locations, and wheelchair users and users with mobility challenges have asked the developers to modify the game to make it possible for disabled people to play. A few modifications in the settings could make the game much more accessible for everyone.
A few things Pokémon got right:
- Pokémon is helping people with mental illness leave the house, feel comfortable in a crowded place and feel productive and happy. Pokémon is helping people who feel alone as they meet new people at the common game stops. It creates a sort of unity amongst users where everyone has gathered for the same purpose and can offer help and guidance. It’s a game that can be played alone or with friends. Many people have been quoted as feeling like the game has given them a reason to leave the house again.
- Pokémon is getting people moving. Whether they’re walking, running or biking, people are outside looking for eggs and creatures, and they are having a fun time doing it. Video games used to be pretty limited in terms of where participants could game, but thanks to smartphones, they can now be played almost everywhere. In the case of Pokémon Go, you actually have to move to find Pokémon. (However, the game was definitely not developed with disabled users in mind and for that, the developers deserve the backlash.)
- The Pokémon avatar allows trans, non-binary and gender-non conforming users to make an avatar that actually represents them and feels comfortable. It does not force users into the usual male or female boxes.
- Users of color are also able to make an avatar that represents them accurately. This is a relatively new thing in the world of online gaming. The diversity of Pokémon is actually quite remarkable and should be applauded. Other gaming companies should take note that users like and use games that are current and keep up with representation.
So, love it or not, the game is going to be around for a bit. Despite multiple server crashes, bugs and problems that would normally doom an app, Pokémon has managed to remain hugely popular. The days of owning separate equipment for video games are not disappearing, but this new style of game is changing the way people play and have access. The game is available as a free download on Android and iOS.