So Pokemon Go is not just a thing – it is very much the thing of the moment.
Here’s another thing: as I write this, early on a Sunday morning, my youngest daughter is outside with her mobile trying to find characters in our sleepy Devon village. On any other Sunday you care to choose from the past few years she would have very much inside, either in front of the TV (earlier years) or on a PC/laptop/tablet (more recent years).
An app has got her outside in the fresh air
Just consider what that means: for the first time ever a phone app has got her up, dressed, out of the house and moving in the fresh air. What’s more, on Friday my older teenage son spent the day in Exeter and I caught him with the game open on his phone too when I picked him up which suggests his day might have been a bit more active and interesting than the usual meander around shops and fast food chains. I’m sure any parent of teens will join me in yelling a huge “come on!” (or whatever your particular exclamation of delight is) when such a welcome change happens.
By design not accident
Here’s another thing – this is not, apparently, an accident or an unintended (but welcome) consequence. According to an article in Business Insider, the CEO of Pokemon Go developer Niantic, John Hanke, claims that getting people exercising, along with nudging them to see the world with fresh eyes and breaking the ice so people spend time were the three big goals they set out to achieve…
Exercise: A lot of fitness apps come with a lot of “baggage” that end up making you feel like “a failed Olympic athlete” when you’re just trying to get fit, Hanke says. “Pokémon Go” is designed to get you up and moving by promising you Pokémon as rewards, rather than placing pressure on you.
“To see the world with new eyes”: The game is intended to “give you a little nudge” toward cool and interesting things in your neighborhood by turning real-life landmarks and historical sites into Pokéstops and gyms where players power up and battle. By encouraging exploration, “Pokémon Go” can “make your life better in some small way,” Hanke says.
Breaking the ice: All over the world, players are organizing “Pokémon Go” outings, cruising around their area, and trawling for Pokémon. At higher levels, players need to team up with fellow players to conquer those gyms. This is by design: Hanke describes “Pokémon Go” as an “icebreaker” that “gives people a reason to spend time together.”
The big question though has to be whether this will last or will it be yesterday’s news faster than the latest series of Big Brother?
Tapping into powerful human drivers
I’m old enough to have seen so many flavours of the month that crash and burn as fast as they appear. I suspect Pokemon Go will be another to a large extent: the cool kids will be calling it naff any moment now and that will be the start of the end. But against that I do think this is more than just an empty craze. It taps into a number of really powerful human drivers such as collecting, competing and the treasure hunt. It re-engages people with the real world, but without them having to let go of their beloved phones, and connects them with others. And it introduces many to a whole new technology – augmented reality – albeit in a very simplistic way.
It’s too early to say but I suspect for Pokemon Go at least the very scale of its growth may actually limit its longevity (not that Nintendo nor Niantic will be complaining too much). But no doubt it will also herald a whole host of me-toos and perhaps, between them, the phenomenon will stick.
As a parent with a child who has just returned home with a glow in her cheeks, I certainly hope so.