Since the release of Pokémon Go a week ago, it appears a generation of dormant Pokémon fans who grew up with the franchise have roused up like a Snorlax, reawakened with a quest to catch ’em all.
I admit I, too, caught the Poké-fever. I downloaded the app right when it launched, but after a week of playing with it, I’ve come to the sad realization I’ll never succeed at this game. It’s not just because I suck (though my stats are weak). I have a fundamental problem with how this game is played.
I have many fond memories of playing Pokémon on the Game Boy (something I still do from time to time) and waking up early on Saturday mornings to catch the cartoon (now there’s Netflix for that). Pokémon Go has been such a global sensation because it’s tapped into my generation’s nostalgia and offered us the chance to become real-life Pokémon trainers using augmented reality.
There’s an undeniable feeling of delight seeing a Pokémon for the first time in a real-life setting, even if it’s only on a phone screen. But that eventually wears off, and it’s made me acutely aware of what I’m doing.
Pokémon Go is a location-based game that encourages real-life exploration, luring people outside with the promise of Pokémon, items, and battles. Travel has always been a key part of the Pokémon plot, but I much prefer doing so by hitting the Game Boy’s directional pad. It’s not because I’m lazy.
Everyday, everywhere I look, whether I’m on the train, walking to lunch, or sitting on a park bench, I see people glued to their phones. Though the loading screen warns players to be alert of their surroundings, Pokémon Go is designed entirely around being distracted: walking while using a phone. People playing the game have become so oblivious to the world around them that they’ve literally walked into armed robberies.
Because of my disdain for walking while tapping, I haven’t been very successful at leveling up or catching anything besides Zubats, which seem to really like my office building. The building, where I most frequently play the game, also happens to be a Pokéstop because it’s a historic site in San Francisco, so I’ve loaded up on many Pokéballs as well. But other than that, I haven’t made very much progress.
Like most of my peers, spending too much time on my phone is a habit I’m guilty of too, but in recent years I’ve made a conscious effort to not be someone who’s so terrified of a moment of boredom that I must check my phone every chance I get. As is, the device is a big enough source of anxiety, embodying unceasing worries about the past and future. I don’t want to be so engrossed by pixels on a screen that I also miss what’s actually around me.
I want to instead be a person whose mind is calm and clear, who lives in the present and appreciates all the magic it contains. Some might argue that Pokémon Go is helping them discover what’s around them—Pokéstops, after all, highlight nearby cultural landmarks and other points of interest—but personally, I know I’d be far too distracted by a virtual Pidgey to notice a real robin nearby. I’m never going to get good at Pokémon Go because I’m going to choose the real bird each time.