As a kid, I wanted to be the very best — like no one ever was. Catching them was my real test. Training them was my cause. However, I could not travel across the land, searching far and wide, because my Pokemon adventures were confined to the old cabbage-green screen of the Gameboy.
When I wasn’t engaged in my digital adventure to be the greatest Pokemon master, I was absorbed in the toys, cards, cartoon, movies and writing terrible fan fiction. (“They sneeked sighlently passed scientists” is still the greatest worst sentence I’ve ever written). Pokemon was the defining craze of my generation and I soaked it up. I caught all 151 original Pokemon, got opening-night tickets to the movies (which I and my friends saw multiple times to get the promo trading cards), surfed the internet as it speculated new Pokemon (remember Pikablu?), built decks and battled with the trading card game, read the manga, bought the toys, and oh the stories of heartbreak and triumph I could tell in my quest as a Pokemon trainer, collector and fan. Maybe I’ll share some another time.
Now this Pokemon trainer is all grown up (physically, anyway) and now his dream of seeing Pokemon in real life has now come true. Sort of.
Pokemon Go, at this point, probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a mobile augmented reality game where players go out into the real world to track, catch and train Pokemon. It’s practically tailored to my generation.
That’s probably why it’s so surprising that I’m not playing it.
It’s hard for me to give one reason as to why I’m playing it, but I will say this: it’s not because of the game itself. In fact, the concept behind it is brilliant. Niantic developed a game that’s total wish fulfillment for an entire generation. Despite some of the negative stories you hear of people trespassing or getting robbed while playing Pokemon Go (more on that later), the game has had a positive impact in many people’s lives. For instance, it’s helped people with anxiety and depression to manage these things by forcing them to go outside, and giving them a goal to work toward.
I’d say that one of the main reasons I’m not playing Pokemon Go is simply time. I had dabbled in Niantic’s previous augmented reality game, Ingress, for about a week before getting bored and also getting distracted by its notifications. Despite my rose-coloured memories of Pokemon, I’m pretty sure a similar thing would happen if I got onto Pokemon Go.
However, the main reason I’m not playing Pokemon Go is tied to a broader discussion about the abundant—almost intrusive—use of technology that has just become normal in our society.
One of my first jobs was working in a photolab at a drug store in 2005, and I watched as film was gradually overtaken by digital cameras and self-serve kiosks. My next job was at The Source, one of the hubs for new and exciting digital gadgetry. The smartphone revolution happened right in front of me, as flip-phones and slide-out keypads were obliterated by touchscreen everything-and-the-kitchen-sink wonderphones (a term I’m surprised I never saw marketers use).
I kept afloat of the latest tech developments for a long time. After a while, though, I felt that the tech industry reached a point where things stopped being more innovative and instead just settle on being more shiny. In the past few years I’ve found myself distant from the forefront of digital gadgetry. Jaded, perhaps, is the right word.
Our technology has become inseparable from us. Just forget your phone at home for a day and you’ll see what I mean. However, the line between who is in control of said technology is constantly shifting. A notification of a new email, Facebook comment or tweet can send spikes of anticipation up your back. A little blip from a text message can break your concentration. The desire to drop everything and respond right now has become so ingrained in us that it’s hard to break. Our digital life encroaches on our real life in subtle, yet powerful ways.
So how does all this relate to Pokemon Go?
The line between our real life and digital life is blurrier than ever. In Pokemon Go, players join a fictional team to catch fictional creatures in real locations. They complete for digital supremacy at gyms, which are special locations often found at real landmarks. And I’m sure now you’ve seen videos or heard stories of people gathering en masse in once-quite neighbourhoods where PokeStops or gyms have popped up.
Perhaps I’ve absorbed too much sci-fi. But when I see masses of people standing in a park, silently staring at their phones, and then charging all at once in pursuit of a digital creature; when I see people with goggles strapped to their head, almost fully immersed into a digital world; when I hear about uploading our minds into a computer to be stored and accessed digitally—to me, all these kinds of stories just show me that the technology we indulge in is becoming an overlord over our own lives. Even our refrigerators now are tied to the internet.
Now that’s not to say that technology, and even games, don’t have a place in our lives. If a small distraction like Pokemon Go is enough to help pull people out of the darkest pits of depression, or if World of Warcraft can bring two people together who eventually get married, or if Minecraft can be used in school to teach kids not only free-spirited creativity but also collaboration and programming—if all that and more, then I believe that video games (in all their forms) have a positive and useful place in our lives. Heck, video games have even inspired my own creativity and writing.
However, we’re a species that likes to indulge. And if there’s nothing to keep our indulgences in check, then we fall into excess without even recognizing it.
Pokemon Go isn’t excessive. But it speaks to a growing trend of the excessive use of technology in our real world. In moderation, it’s harmless. But when taken to extremes, you hear stories of people trespassing on others’ property, people getting robbed, people falling off cliffs.
If I want to go anywhere, I want to go on my own terms, and see things with my own eyes—not just because my phone is telling me there’s a Pokemon there, so I can see a digital creature through my phone screen. It’s an issue of agency that I strive for, that I don’t allow my phone (or other technology) to control my life.
So despite all my years of Pokemon training, I’m content to let this Pokemon go.