A quick Google search of Pokémon GO will result in a wide array of unthinkably ridiculous articles, like “Nationwide Pokémon GO ban sought by Indian lawsuit that claims title is religiously offensive,” “Russian man faces five years in jail for playing Pokémon GO in church” and “Man falls into river while playing Pokémon GO” to name a few. Articles like these seem to paint an extremely negative and dangerous picture of Pokémon GO, but are these reviews actually fair to the game?
In order to be able to discuss the negative reviews of Pokémon GO in more detail, it is necessary to explain what exactly Pokémon GO is. An alternate virtual reality game created by Nintendo, Pokémon GO allows players to experience the world of Pokémon directly from their smart phones. The app, which is available for both iPhones and Android devices, accesses the GPS location trackers of the players’ cell phones, allowing them to catch Pokémon in their own towns. A virtual map is displayed that shows clickable PokéStops, which are popular locations in a town that can be spun to gain free items. There are also gyms placed throughout towns that allow players to join teams and practice fighting and training with their Pokémon. The game is built on Niantic’s Real World Gaming Platform, which is a platform geared towards changing the way players interact with the world.
According to John Hanke and the Niantic Team, “By exploiting the capabilities of smartphones and location technology and through building a unique massively scalable server and global location dataset, we have helped users all around the world have fun, socialize and get more fit as they play and explore.”
When the app is in use, the game is able to count the user’s steps, which is used to hatch eggs of two, five and ten kilometers. This mechanism is useful in promoting exercise in many players who might otherwise remain sedentary. Additionally, this feature has helped those who might avoid social interactions meet more people and communicate with greater ease.
“[Pokémon GO has] been super beneficial to people with mental illnesses, giving them motivation to get up and go outside and engage with people,” Joanie Davis (’18), computer science major, said. “It gets people outside, exercising and exploring their hometowns more.”
Science Daily discusses the health benefits of Pokémon GO with Dr. Matt Hoffman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing.
“Playing the game is a lot of fun, and it has been a catalyst to get people moving,” Hoffman said in Science Daily. “What began as just playing the game has now become a hobby for me that provides certain health benefits. I’ve spent an hour or two at a time venturing around the community to find PokéStops. And, to hatch one egg, a trainer must walk anywhere from one to six miles. There’s no doubt about it, I am exercising more as a result of playing the game, and I am enjoying it.”
Pokémon GO is a popular game, its users ranging from long-time players of the Pokémon franchise and users who have never played a Pokémon game in their lives, from young children to older adults. Pokémon GO’s userbase grows daily, with an estimated nine to 21-million “trainers” exploring in their towns and beyond. Since different and rarer Pokémon can only be found in certain cities, regions and countries, the app also promotes travelling far out of one’s comfort zone and experiencing other cultures and landmarks, while catching cooler Pokémon at the same time.
Despite the numerous reports of the app’s health benefits, many people are still wary about the negative qualities of Pokémon GO. Articles focusing on Pokémon GO users walking into traffic, using the app while driving and being lured into isolated areas and mugged twist the app into something that appears overly reckless and careless.
In an article in the USA Today covering “the bad and the ugly of Pokémon GO,” author Ryan Miller begins his article with the following paragraph: “What started out as just fun and games has turned into multiple crime scenes, religious decrees and dead bodies.”
The start of his article is formatted to be as sensational as possible, highlighting a few crazy events that have been associated with Pokémon GO and blowing them out of proportion. The article lists a total of 16 events, ranging from shootings to religious bans, which is only a small proportion of people actually using the app on a regular basis.
“People are always afraid of change, especially when it comes in the form of new technology,” Abagail Jeavons (’18), a biology major, said. “But this fear doesn’t allow them to see the possible benefits – like increased physical activity and connection between people – that technology might provide.”
Pokémon GO undergoes many updates every couple of weeks that help to address bugs users have experienced, as well as the safety issues that weren’t accounted for in the first release of the app.
“A lot of the criticism I’ve seen has been about some of the news stories about people doing stupid things while playing, like falling off of cliffs, but those are sensationalized minority stories. Most people know not to walk out into traffic,” Laura Teal (’17), a neuroscience composite major, said.
Chesli Joy (’18), a religion major, also commented on Nintendo’s response to safety concerns. “Like the Pokémon, the game has evolved into a better and, more importantly, safer version of itself. You don’t need to chase down the Pokémon into the street and the game warns you not to play while driving. I honestly walk more now that I have the app, and it certainly is a source for conversation with its popularity.”
There are always going to be downsides to new technology. There will always be reckless individuals who misuse the app and give the game a bad rep, but these few crazy situations and irresponsible users should not be allowed to brand all users as abominations to society and shadow the undeniable benefits of a video game that actually makes its players go outside.