Feeding the body: Pokemon Go

Whether for or against, people tend to have strong opinions about Pokémon Go. For those who have not somehow heard about it yet, Pokémon Go is a new game developed to be played on smartphones. It was made by Nintendo, and designed by Niantic, Inc, and has sparked a new Pokémon craze (although the franchise never fully lost its following between its 1995 beginning and now.)

Each player creates an in-game avatar, which captures Pokémon (fictional friendly and hostile monsters), which can be trained and battled at in-game gyms. One of the feature which makes the game so controversial is the method of play—through Google and the phone’s GPS, the map that the avatars explore matches up with the player’s current surroundings. The player physically walking is a vital part of gameplay, as gyms and Pokéstops (in-game checkpoints where players can gather supplies) correspond with real-life landmarks. There are certain functions that can’t be completed without movement—and the game will not register when the GPS tracks the player’s speed as being that of a car, plane, etc.

This game has had some great effects. Because the game needs you to physically move, more and more people are getting out into their communities, and getting more and more walking and biking time in. And duh, walking = better all-around physical and mental health. Health care professionals and mental illness patients are also reporting vast improvements with depression, anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, and autism among others. Ever since meeting and getting involved with DF, autism especially has been a subject close to my heart. It’s wonderful how many parents are reporting direct connections between Pokémon Go and increases in their children’s social skills and mental flexibility. Here and here are a few of the articles I’ve seen

However, with every good thing comes people who will find ways to cheat, or take it to unhealthy extremes (wouldn’t that make a great t-shirt slogan??) People are finding ways to get around the walking requirement by using pets and moving toys. Since the game can be so addictive while potentially causing players to lose track of what is happening around them, people have been documented as being injured or killed by falling off cliffs and into rivers. Players have also been robbed, had car accidents, and suffered illness resulting from sun overexposure. There are too many cases to individually list–it seems like every day brings up a fresh crop in the media outlets from Buzzfeed to the TV news–but here is a good article, from The Atlantic, that I used while writing this post.

Now, all that being said, I do have pretty mixed feelings…

When my brother and I were pre-teens, there was a pretty major Pokémon craze among our peers. I was never a rabid Pokémon fan. My brother and I watched the TV show, and half-heartedly collected pogs when they were given out in Dorito bags. As an adult, I tend to look on Pokémon affectionately while remembering the good old days. So when I recently downloaded Pokémon Go, it was mainly just to get a sense of what exactly everyone is talking about for myself, not to fervently catch them all.

I’ve had it since Saturday, I think. Some players reported that the game was requesting FULL access to their Gmail accounts (including email and history). To be safe, I created a new Gmail account specifically for the purpose. The day or two after I got it I had some trouble signing in—it wasn’t wanting to recognize my GPS or load. Whatever the reason, it’s been working fine the last few days and I’ve been finding that it’s pretty fun!

I usually struggle with getting enough exercise. While it may just be because the game’s still new and novel to me, I’ve gotten out of the house and been on several walks in the last two days. I live close to a parky type area which has many stops and gyms. It’s been fun discovering what different features, and discovering what the developers/Googlemaps deemed significant enough to qualify as a Pokéstop.

Since I don’t want to end up like one of those people who walks into traffic or anything while on my phone, I took (and take) precautions. I make absolute sure to look up from my phone for a decent amount of time every few seconds. I look at things I am passing. I take note of cicadas, and the sound of running water. When I was walking through the park area, I would regularly sit down and visually enjoy the beauty of my surroundings, even turning the game off for a few minutes.

I also turned off the option to connect my phone’s camera to the game. This means that instead of seeing a cute little critter perched in that big oak tree down the road, they appear against a cartoony background. I suspect this makes it easier to dissociate myself from the virtual reality. Reminding myself that every second I’m playing, I’m also burning through data helps too.

Playing Pokémon Go gives me a kick to get off the couch and do something different. Getting outside changes my surroundings, and temporarily distracts me from my worries, anxieties and apathy. Although catching pretend monsters is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it is a gentle and immediate thing to care about. It’s been cool to realize how many of the creature names I remember from childhood—I also remember the lyrics and tune to the original theme song! I’m also a bit less scornful of the people who get SO into the game they barely look up from their phones.

That actually sounds like a good closing point actually. Pokémon Go can be great, but don’t let it take over your life. Keep at least trying to find other things to get you up in the morning, to catch and keep your interest. Evolve, train, and battle your Pokémon, but don’t forget that it is also important to evolve and train your body, soul, and interests as a valuable, individual, and unique person! Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here!

You are worth it.

Much love.

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