For the past week, our social media feeds have been filled with two things: Pokémon and death.
If you are someone complaining about Pikachu clogging up your Facebook timeline, ask yourself this: Is an endless stream of carnage or minute-by-minute coverage of what Donald Trump ate for dinner much better? After a man shot 12 police officers in Dallas and footage of two Fresno police officers killing an unarmed teenager went viral, don’t we all need to feel emotions that aren’t anger or sadness?
Enter “Pokémon Go,” an augmented reality game for the iOS and Android that has set the world on fire.
I slammed into my editor’s office the morning after “Pokémon Go” was released to show her something I knew would get crazy. I predicted the fringe stories – “I met my boyfriend on ‘Pokémon Go’ and “man robbed at Pokestop.” I knew mega-publisher Nintendo was shifting to mobile, and this would be the first of many games tapping into its powerful roster of iconic franchises.
But I had no idea how fast it would grow. By the following Monday, my boss knew I had to do something that day. I couldn’t wait for this column.
I’ve never seen anything like this. In its first week, “Pokémon Go” has done more than “Angry Birds” or “Candy Crush” in their debuts. And those games have spawned billion-dollar franchises.
Why did this happen? It certainly isn’t because the game itself is Earth-shattering. It is buggy and the actual Pokémon battles are pretty bad.
However, “Pokémon Go” taps into all sorts of powerful social forces in the modern world.
Its most obvious strength is what all mobile games bring to the table: Accessibility. This meteoric rise would not be possible if “Pokémon Go” wasn’t free and available on devices virtually every person walking around in America has access to use.
It also taps into our vanity. Americans – especially my beloved millennials – this intense need to document where we are, who we are with and what we are doing at all times. Our friends, coworkers and goldfish all desperately need to know this information. Many of us have to take it a step further, inserting ourselves via selfie stick into those pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Pokémon Go” allows us to go one step further – inserting little cartoon monsters into these photos. It immediately triggered an arms race for who could take the silliest photos of Ekans crawling on their dinner date. Some took that way too far. People, do not hunt for Pokémon at the Holocaust Museum or Auschwitz. There are plenty of other places to find them.
But most of all, “Pokémon Go” allows us to be fun and silly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most people, both here in Fresno and abroad, are playing it at night. It’s a way to unwind after a long day at work. Yes, some of us are pulling our phones out during work or at the grocery store to catch a Caterpie. So what?
The game has also inspired multiple generations to get out of the house. I’ve seen the hate from the smoothie-slurping granola lovers running half-marathons on their way to hot yoga class who claim that walking around zombified by your cell phone isn’t exercise, but it’s certainly a lot more than what we would get if we were sitting on our couches.
And let me nip another criticism in the bud: It is not dangerous. It is distracting, and some people don’t handle that as well as they should, but that’s life. Trust me. When someone is injured, maimed, robbed or killed in Fresno, I am often the one who has to write about it. These things happen to people every day. We can’t let that stop us from having fun and living our lives.
I’ve been the most impressed by the social draw “Pokémon Go” has been for my community. A Pokémon-themed pub crawl in the Tower District generated tons of buzz on Facebook. When I went to Woodward Park on Wednesday to cover a concert, I saw dozens of people roaming around looking for Pokémon. Someone whizzed by on a skateboard, his backpack blaring the “Pokémon” TV show theme song. My fellow Bees have shared similar stories about nights in their neighborhoods.
“Pokémon Go” is a free game available on accessible devices that offers fun, laughs and a little exercise. It is fostering entire communities filled with people of all ages and backgrounds who probably would have never spoken to each other in public without it.
We needed this. In a beautiful world too often portrayed through ugly prisms, we needed this.