Last week a staff writer and graphic designer were wandering the office, holding their phones under their noses and searching for “pocket monsters.” Yes, there are Pokémon at Flathead Beacon headquarters in downtown Kalispell. A Pidgey was captured in the newsroom.
To me, Pokémon was always a card game featuring bizarre creatures that would do battle over a coffee table – like Spades for kids. Then there was the cartoon and the merchandise and video games. This is different. This is Pokemon Go, an app that debuted two weeks ago and quickly eclipsed more that 20 million daily active users in the U.S. That’s more than Twitter. It’s the biggest game ever and is still growing.
What is it? A millennial coworker explained it this way: “When you log on, you see a map of the area you are in, including streets and buildings. Some places are made into destinations, like Pokémon gyms where you can train and Pokéstops where you can get more supplies. As you’re walking, Pokémon will randomly appear – you then click on that Pokémon and it will activate your camera so you’re actually looking at the Pokemon on the screen in the street in front of you. You throw the ball until you catch them, although there’s some strategy to that I haven’t quite figured out.”
Based on the amount of hours he has invested in the game, I’m sure he will. It’s addictive. That’s why you see people jumping out of their cars and running with their phones down the sidewalks. There is an upside to all of this. People who otherwise might be glued to screens indoors are walking around with them outdoors.
Jacob Schmidt, who was gathered with friends playing the game in downtown Billings, told the Gazette, “Before downloading it I was walking less than 3,000 steps a day, and since I’ve downloaded the game I’m walking 13,000 steps a day.”
To be sure, a phenomenon that draws millions of people outside looking at their phone screens instead of the world in front of them will have consequences. And here are just a few:
Nearly every day, there is a report of property owners wanting their in-game locations removed from the Poké-verse, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Arlington National Cemetery, where Pokémon Go players are disrupting other visitors.
On July 12 in Auburn, New York, police responded to an accident in which a vehicle drifted off the road and collided with a tree. The driver, who suffered minor injuries, acknowledged that he was distracted actively playing Pokémon Go while driving.
On July 14, two men in North San Diego County fell off a bluff while playing the game. Firefighters rescued the men. Officials said they were likely led to the cliff in search of pocket monsters.
In the short term, the popularity of the game will only increase. And for all those properties that want to be removed, equal numbers are eager to pay to have Pokémon characters placed in their businesses.
Many gamers will continue to play this app when they shouldn’t, like when walking near cliffs or driving. Perhaps accidents can be reduced by the advent of self-driving cars, except those appear to be crashing lately, including a Tesla on its way to Yellowstone National Park.
Cars that drive themselves. Augmented reality games. The future is here and a lot of us aren’t quite ready for it.