The episode I’m about to tell you takes place on a placid and hot Italian Sunday, a few hours after midday. As I’m trying to find my bearings after a long week and the party I attended the night before, my phone starts ringing. “Hey, dude! We’re out looking for Pokémon and we’ll stroll by your place in a few minutes, want to join us?” says the voice at the other end. Admittedly a bit shocked by the invite, I decide to get dressed and see what the fuss is all about.
Playing Pokémon with friends is one of my fondest memories from the late 90’s. A much younger me would spend hours upon hours battling his schoolmates or trading the little beasts through the (in)famous Game Link Cable, often building and strengthening social relationships in the meantime. This is one of the reasons why, when Pokémon Go hit the markets, I immediately decided that I needed the app on my phone.
This Game is a Worldwide Phenomenon
It’s only been a couple of weeks since Pokémon GO saw the light of day, but the game is already ranking first among the most dowloaded free apps on both the Apple Store and Google Play. What at first seemed to be yet another mobile game that wouldn’t last more than a couple of days quickly turned into a worldwide phenomenon. Not only is everybody and their families talking about it, but people can be spotted playing the game almost anywhere. From government buildings, to schools, to public places, there is no denying that Pokémon GO is now a huge part of our daily lives and that the game might already have, at least partially, changed the way we interact with the world and with others.
Going back to the Sunday I was telling you about before, our hunt for Pokémon led us to one of the nearby PokéStops, the real-life locations the app has you visit to receive additional items and experience. The presence of a huge crowd at first left me puzzled, until I realized that someone had to have deployed a lure module. For the next 30 minutes or so, people kept swarming the place with their phone in their hands, all playing Pokémon GO and trying to catch as many as they could. Someone even arranged for fresh beverages to be distributed to fight the exhausting heat of a Mediterranean summer. Right in front of my eyes, a small party came to life, with people having conversations, sharing tips, commenting each other catches or simply enjoying a glass of ice cold tea while reliving part of their childhoods.
Promoting A More Active and Social LifeStyle
While Pokémon GO might not be, from a purely critical standpoint, the most amazing of games, mostly due to the missing features, one thing that the app is excelling at is promoting a more active and social lifestyle. Personally, I found myself taking longer and longer walks around the neighborhood or simply preferring public transportation to my own car to increase my chances of running into fellow Pokémon trainers or into a rare Pokémon.
It is also quite common to be recognized by other Pokémon GO players and stopped for a chat or simply to be asked for directions to a close-by PokéStop. These random encounters often end up with the parts teaming up in order to take over a gym or simply to keep each other company while playing and ultimately lead to the birth of new friendships. Some will even visit places they’ve never been to before just to get better at the game, learning a bit more about the world and its cultures and broadening their knowledge.
While there have been some reports of Pokémon-related violence throughout the world, the vast majority of the players seems to be amazingly nice and respectful, creating an environment that greatly improves the overall experience.
An Uncertain Future
When discussing the phenomenon that Pokémon GO has become, it’s hard not to think of the future of this app. As I mentioned before, the game is still lacking most of the features advertised in the original trailer, with trading and battling yet to make an appearance and with the whole experience still feeling a bit wonky and looking like it could do with a few updates.
— David Robustelli (@RobustelliDavid) July 14, 2016
While Niantic, the company behind the game, is yet to announce any official plans for the future, rumors have it that the Pokémon GO might soon make advantage of more complex AR devices. The game might even, one day, be available for a future generation of visors such as the HoloLens, with some developers already experimenting with the device.
Whether this will be true or not is a bit too early to say. All I can be sure of, as of now, is that Pokémon GO succeeded where other, more fitness-oriented, apps failed: the game actually has you leaving your house and exercising as you try to progress through it.
For a group of people, that of gamers, in which some spend long hours sitting still in front of a screen or laying down on a couch mashing buttons, Pokémon GO is promoting a more healthy and social lifestyle, perhaps contributing to improving their overall quality of life and helping the fight against obesity and depression. That, at least for me, is as good as an app can get.