Sure, Pokémon Go isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you have an insufficient data allowance, battery life, or happen to have a Windows Phone. However, those who have become engrossed in this world-beating AR experiment are finding it very hard to detach themselves and simply walk away. Many of these people, as you’ll notice in your social media timeline and news feeds, are friends and family that don’t normally identify as gamers.
In truth, bar the occasional poorly-design gym battle, there isn’t much of a game there in the first place, but watching the world react to Pokémon Go over the past few weeks has been a surprising, largely positive experience. As someone who gets around on foot quite a bit, even in a quiet town such as mine, it’s strangely warming to see Pokéstops being frequented by all kinds of different folk, some of whom I know personally.
Aside from that intriguing social aspect, Pokémon Go is also helping people to get into shape, believe it or not. While the game doesn’t necessitate visits to actual real-life gyms, many players will have found themselves “going for a walk”, as if the option never existed before Pokémon Go. Although I’m no way near as out of shape as I used to be, the game has certainly influenced how often I leave the house, whether on foot or cycling.
It’s not all rainbows and lollipops, however. In the few weeks that it’s been available, Pokémon Go has spawned all kinds of negative and sometimes humorous headlines, as local and regional newsrooms look to cash in on the trend. Stories of grim discoveries and muggings sit next to those of accidents caused by people staring at their phone screens when they should be looking elsewhere – there’s even the news story of a pedestrian playing Pokémon Go and nearly getting run over… by a driver recklessly playing Pokémon Go in the car. The game has also lured out a number of idiots, such as the person who dialled the emergency services after someone stole their Pokemon.
Although not quite as serious as being attacked or causing harm through negligence, there exist other shady practices within Niantic’s augmented reality, which go well beyond opportunistic taxi firms. Since day one sites like eBay, Gumtree, and various Facebook groups have hosted ads for Pokémon Go services. For real money, some users (often based in London and other large cities) will accept payments to catch Pokémon in their area using your account details.
This kind of “service” is nothing new in video games. MMOs have long had the same problem of paid account boosting and gold farming. For console gamers, you’ll also find many scrupulous eBayers offering digital items for certain games as well as trophy/achievement unlocking services. It’s all very shady and Pokémon Go manages to take it a step further.
Unlike boosting or trophy hunting, capturing Pokémon requires far less time or skill. With tools like Pokévision showing people when and where certain creatures spawn, this means that any Tom, Dick, and Harry can procure monsters for those desperate enough to hand over their email address and password. And that, might we add, is for those individuals who actually carry out the task they’ve been paid for.
It’s impossible to get an accurate reading on such statistics, but it’s easy to imagine that a sizeable minority of players have already fallen prey to opportunistic scammers. The worry here is that many victims will have been those of a much younger age, mostly children.
The black market and other bad press surrounding Pokémon Go does little to dampen the game’s overall appeal. However, as with any big trend, it quickly brings out the worst in people, whether they be negligent, idiotic, or exploitative. It will certainly be interesting to see, as the game continues to expand, how Pokémon Go will play a role in people’s lives. It’s by no means one of 2016’s best video games, yet easily stands out as one of its most important.