Friday, July 22, 2016

What I've learned about Pokemon Go and why you should care

Unless you've been living under a rock or have opted out of 21st century technologies and all forms of media, know that there is a game called Pokemon Go that has taken over the free time of people of all ages.

Pokemon Go is a game that can be installed on mobile devices. The game uses the GPS from the device to provide players a view of their real world with an overlay of their game character (avatar) and the items and creatures to interact with. The object of the game is a little complex and it depends on the person playing it what they might say the whole point is - it is either to collect all the Pokemon, to defeat other players in the Pokemon Gyms, or to pass time.

As a 50-something educator, mother of five, and sociologist, I decided it would be short-sighted of me to not invest some time into the game to figure out what the big deal is, what are future implications in society, and how does this translate in the classroom. I received some disapproving glances from friends and strangers, high fives from teenagers, and hugs from my children during my experience as a player.

This article will divulge the basic information I have gleaned as a player and ideas I have for how this information could transfer into either future research or changes in practice, regardless of what line of work you are in. It was not a scientific study, so everything I am about to write is anecdotal, but still worth pondering.

The Players (called Trainers in the game)

The first thing that began to emerge for me were four distinct categories of players:


  1. Teenagers: This was the obvious, and largest group. These kids started playing it because everyone else was playing it and continued because of some motivation that became apparent to them (which I will discuss later in this article).
  2. Older teenagers and young adults: This group doesn't game as much as they used to, but the lure of their childhood favorite game was strong. One day, when my son and I were headed out for a Pokewalk (you have to actually walk, a lot, to play the game fully), he grabbed his old Nintendo DS and put all of his Pokemon games in his pocket (which he had dug out of storage the night before), and played Pokemon on his DS while we drove to where we were walking that day.
  3. Adults who already walk a lot or spend time outdoors: A lure is set out at a Pokestop by a player in order to attract more Pokemon to the area. Lures help all players, not just the person who put it out, so players tend to congregate in those locations. In those locations, I could always find folks who were out walking their dog AND playing Pokemon, or smoking cigarettes because they were not allowed to in the house AND playing Pokemon. I even saw a postman walking his route while playing Pokemon.
  4. Parents: As a mom to five, I realize the extreme surprise that came with the first day a teenager stood up and said "I'm going for a walk." Our large yard has been unused for the last 15 years and trying to get the kids to go for long walks has been out of the question. Last week, my 15 year old walked over 3 miles with me in 100 degree weather without a single complaint. Moms and Dads are seizing the opportunity to reconnect with their children during family Pokehunts.
The Motivations

When I came across groups of people at a lure, I had the opportunity to talk to some. I found that there are different motivations for people who play the game. This is the piece I was really interested in. My burning question was "Why would THIS game take hold of the world so quickly, and how can I leverage that to forecast what it might mean to our future society?" Again, I began to see some distinct motivators that people would sort under:

  1. Playing a game: This is the obvious motivator. We have become a society that doesn't like downtime. Whether we are waiting for an elevator or for a red light to change, we believe we have to be doing something and for some people, a game is that something. Remember Candy Crush?
  2. Collecting things: After playing the game, this is where I have fallen. Even though I feel like I have experienced the game enough to begin to answer my question, I still play a little. There is something in me that must obtain as many Pokemon as I can. I'm a collector of things. It makes sense that would translate into this augmented world. In speaking with others who are playing, I find that the collecting motivation crosses all age groups.
  3. Competition: Along with competition for Pokemon generally, the game includes competition for control of gyms. Defeating and thus controlling a gym doesn't really do a lot - except that everyone who sees the gym while your Pokemon is controlling it sees both your Pokemon and whatever name you've given it and your avatar. There is a little bit of recognition there, although nobody knows who the players really are. For this aspect of the game, players are required to affiliate themselves with one of three "teams". I am Team Mystic (blue) and have been a little amused by some people who first ask me what team I'm on before they will give me tips or answer my questions.
The Misconceptions

Something I didn't set out to observe, but which happened accidentally, was how people who aren't playing Pokemon Go perceive people around them who they believe to be playing. Since the game began, we have all seen increasing numbers of people outside walking and more groups of people walking or lingering in places. We also have seen more people walking while holding a phone in front of their face . . . or have we? I have been asked if I am playing Pokemon Go while I was reading an email in the parking lot of Starbucks and while I was texting my son to remind him to put out the trash as I was waiting in line at the grocery store. These compete strangers who would never have spoken to me otherwise, felt empowered to smugly ask "Are you playing Pokemon?". I have to say I was a little bit offended. I was reminded of how I felt when smart phones first came out and I found them to be the most convenient way for me to take notes when I was listening to a presenter. I was called out in the middle of a presentation for texting during his speech. As all heads turned to look at me, I held up my phone and said "this is all I have for taking notes, would you like me to stop listening to you?"

Another misconception is that it is dangerous to play Pokemon Go. The truth is, it is dangerous to do anything without planning and being aware. If a lure is in a shady part of town and an area that easily hides potential criminals, why would you stop there? Included in the "dangerous" aspect is the misconception that all Pokemon players are so busy watching their phones that they are walking in front of traffic, off cliffs, etc. The truth is, people have been doing stupid things like that since the beginning of time. I would guess the same percentage of people are going to not look both ways before crossing the street playing Pokemon as there would have been reading a book, talking on the telephone, daydreaming, etc. I would still like to share this campy video a nearby Police Department made to warn people of the dangers of not paying attention while playing Pokemon:


Why Should I Care?

Now that I've discussed the observations I've made, I want to say this: It is vitally important that everyone pay attention to Pokemon Go. I'm not saying that everyone needs to play it, but I am saying that everyone needs to be culturally literate enough to understand what the game is and think about what it could mean for our society and for their work. Here are the things it has made me think about:

  1. I don't know if Pokemon Go itself can be sustained. The "new" will wear off eventually and the truth is, the game doesn't have enough to it to keep people enchanted with it. I do understand the power of the corporate world in our society, however, and realize that there are most likely some planned additions/evolutions of the game already written and waiting to be pushed out to eager players. There are things that aren't in the game that surprise me, like the ability to see other players on the map, or request assistance from other players.
  2. Implications for businesses: 
    • Some small businesses, such as restaurants, have already capitalized on the game by setting lures at nearby Pokestops. I wonder how long it will take before businesses have the ability to pay the company to place a Pokestop at their business and even pay a monthly fee to have a continual lure placed there.
    • On the flip side, businesses have already realized potential security issues and nuisances caused by lingering players. Some government facilities experience people trying to convince them to let them through secure areas in order to get to elusive Pokemon. Other businesses complain that people are loitering in their lobbies, taking up space that is meant for paying customers.
    • An interesting development is happening where local governments are hosting Pokemon events. My town is having one next week for three hours in the evening at one of the city parks. There will be lures set at all the Pokestops in the park, vendors, food trucks, and lots of people. This type of event is due to someone stopping the griping about people lingering and figuring out a way to leverage it to their advantage.
  3. Implications for education:
    • When school is back in session, students will be using precious bandwidth to keep their game going. Campuses will need to make plans now for how to handle the extra demand.
    • There is a new divide between teachers who have not become aware of the implications of Pokemon and students who have. I hosted a group of young people from my church last week whose conversation turned to the game. When they started declaring what team they were on, I said "Team Mystic!". There was a pause in the conversation as they all looked at me. One boy said "You play???" and the girl next to me raised her hand and gave me a high-five, as she was also "blue." From then on, I was not an observer in the conversation, I was included in it, even though I didn't talk much. In the classroom, just knowing enough to seem like you care about something your students care about goes a long way toward establishing some cred with the kids, and cred goes a long way toward establishing those very important relationships with them.
    • Wouldn't it be wonderful if our students could get as excited about learning your content as they did about learning how to play this game? I'm not advocating for integrating Pokemon Go into your curriculum, although some teachers and librarians have already figured out how to do so. I'm advocating for you to understand the motivations and how those could translate into your classroom. For example, collecting things seems to be a giant motivator across all groups - coming up with a system in your classroom where students can seek special cards or badges (not just achievement badges) and in the seeking, they learn something new, could begin to turn your classroom into a place where students are eager to seek, wonder, and explore.
  4. Implications for society: For this part, I put on my forecast practitioner hat and begin to wonder, "What does this translate into years down the road?
    • Do we have other games like Pokemon Go that appeal to the MMORPG players of my day? Do these games evolve into a sort of a Second Life experience, which was ahead of its time?
    • Does this move our whole society out of obesity? As people explore their surroundings in a physical and augmented world, does the tendency toward sitting and snacking get lost and we all become healthier? Does this result in a booming outdoor adventure market?
    • Is there an increase in deadly skin cancer as a result of people talking longer walks than they realized and not using sunscreen? (I'm serious)
    • Do technology companies device better batteries that charge on renewable energy sources in our environment or recycle the heat from the phone back into usable power?
    • Does corporate America find this as a new way to control our exposure to products and services and sway our opinions? Do politicians?
    • Do we all wear nifty, lightweight glasses that give us immediate and constant augmentation of our realities?
    • Should I buy stock in Nintendo and Sony as everyone is reminded of their old gaming favorites and flock to buy them again?
    • Do teenagers, who are having a hard time finding jobs with the high number of adults filling the jobs they previously could get, begin selling their services as surrogate players? I can drop my mobile device off in the morning and Tommy can take it and 20 others in his backpack while he is walking all over town, hatching eggs? Occasionally, Tommy sits in a park and captures Pokemon on all the devices, being paid per Pokemon, the rarer, the more expensive.
The list can go on and on. I have not even begun to strategically consider what this means to our future society. This article is a first step in that process.

Have you considered Pokemon Go? What might it mean for your line of work?

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