BY MALLORY HARMON
The game has been called an epidemic, a danger, a worldwide phenomenon, simple yet profound, and a global craze; however, it is more formally known as Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go is a mobile game that superimposes virtual elements onto players’ real environments, therein creating a melded view of the players’ surroundings and the virtual aspects of the game. This experience is known as Augmented Reality. Pokemon Go is played by traveling to and around local landmarks and monuments to collect Pokemon and visit Pokestops and Gyms. This game requires a great deal of walking and outdoor game time, which differentiates it from the regular indoor, stationary video gaming that has paralyzed teens in Forsyth County.
Different Pokemon are found in different environments such as schools, parks, and natural bodies of water. Once you have located a Pokemon on your screen you tap it to focus; this activates your camera, which allows you to view the Pokemon in your surroundings. Once you have located the Pokemon on your screen, you aim and toss a Pokeball at the creature in an attempt to capture it. Players can develop better technique over time and acquire more sophisticated capturing mechanisms.
This brings us to Pokestops. Pokestops are found on manmade structures such as signs for churches, schools or parks or they can be found on monuments like pieces of art or statues. Once you have found a Pokestop, you spin the icon that depicts the picture of the physical object to collect Pokeballs, potions, revival gems, eggs, etc. Finally, you can locate gyms to battle in. Once you have chosen a team, it is your job to use your most skilled Pokemon to practice in or conquer other team’s gyms.
In an attempt to understand the experience, and to meet the players of this innovative game, I ventured out onto the streets of downtown Winston-Salem and joined the hunt. I made my way to Winston Square Park, a popular haunt for Pokemon enthusiasts and set off a virtual lure module. Within minutes, not only Pokemon, but crowds began to gather.
The players I spoke with cited varied reasons for playing the game. My first interviewee was a preteen boy named Noah. “I used to sit inside playing video games, but now I want to be outside as much as possible,” he commented. Next, I approached two more typical players in their early twenties, Noah and Oscar. They told me similarly that they spend less time watching Netflix and more time out on walks and they both assured me that they would play Pokemon all their lives.
After catching a few Pokemon myself, I noticed a small group consisting of a couple of kids and a teenager accompanied by a man and a woman in their mid-twenties. They walked to the park, collecting Pokeballs and commenting on each other’s unique catches. I approached the three eldest: Briana, Mary, and Jamar (a.k.a Pineapple head). Briana praised the game, telling me that she spends more time getting exercise and commented that the game “entertains the kids and keeps them active.” Jamar noted the game’s mix of the real and the virtual world and said, “It’s my goal to catch all the Pokemon.”
I was surprised to find that the majority of players were in their early twenties. However, I was able to locate a teen group. Chris (16) said he enjoyed Pokemon Go because “Pokemon is a game of fitness” and Tierra (18) said, “I am spending more time out of my bedroom because of Pokemon.” Finally, I made my way to a slightly older pair who were chatting by the fountain. I introduced myself, and Sophia (27), and Edith (26) told me they particularly enjoyed Pokemon because it gave them a reason to spend time together. Edith, who held a new baby on her knee commented, “Pokemon has helped me lose a lot of my pregnancy weight!”
Walking along the streets of downtown Winston I began to realize how this simple app had drawn people out of their homes and was helping them not only enjoy nature and get exercise, but to personally interact with those who share their interests.
Many (myself included) hope that Pokemon Go has kicked off a new movement of more physically active gaming. It has caused the formerly reclusive gamer to venture off of his or her bean bag and out from behind the flat screen into a virtual scavenger hunt in the real world. The excuse “Sorry I was trying to catch a Pokemon!” and the popular question, “Hey, are y’all playing Pokemon Go?” are creating new bonds worldwide between people who would never have glanced at each other otherwise.