Editorials

‘Pokémon Go,’ the spin on reality that America needs

A Pokemon Go player on the streets of San Francisco. The free smartphone game, which sends users outdoors to track down Pokemon, has been such a raging success that Nintendo’s market capitalization has soared by billions.
A Pokemon Go player on the streets of San Francisco. The free smartphone game, which sends users outdoors to track down Pokemon, has been such a raging success that Nintendo’s market capitalization has soared by billions. NYT

On Monday, Sacramento police killed a man who was walking around waving a knife.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama offered words of sadness, frustration and, yes, hope at a memorial service for five Dallas police officers who were killed by a sniper last week.

On Thursday, a funeral is set for Philando Castile, the black man who was shot by police in Minnesota and bled to death on video livestreamed to Facebook.

Given the gun violence, racial strife, anger and fear that seem to have overtaken our country this summer, it’s hard to imagine room for another challenge.

Yet here we stand, a nation obsessed with Charmander, Vulpix, Jigglypuff and Pikachu.

The smartphone game “Pokémon Go” has been downloaded more than 7.5 million times in a matter of days, spurred by nostalgia for a Japanese entertainment franchise whose 1990s tagline was, “Gotta catch ’em all.”

The craze has unleashed a mass virtual-reality treasure hunt across the country. In parks, around landmarks, outside the Capitol this week, otherwise reality-based adults have found themselves crisscrossing streets and lawns, even wading in rivers, all to nab cartoon monsters. Apparently the human variety aren’t compelling enough.

Or maybe they’re too compelling. How else to explain the sudden fixation on fantasy?

“Pokémon Go” emulates the cartoons’ quest for a menagerie of magical creatures. The game uses a smartphone’s GPS and camera to superimpose the characters and a map of a player’s location onto the real world.

Players must venture out, away from their gaming consoles, to collect hidden critters – a challenge that, while welcome, has also generated reports of players tripping and falling and missing curbs and potholes while being glued to their phone screens. Transit agencies from San Francisco to New York are warning riders not to jump onto subway tracks in pursuit of illusions. Police are warning people not to Pokémon and drive.

“Reports of close calls associated with playing ‘Pokémon Go’ already are rolling in,” the National Safety Council said Tuesday. “The Council urges gamers to consider safety over their scores before a life is lost.”

One player in Wyoming found a drowning victim. Others were robbed by Missouri teenagers.

Is it sad? Is it fun? Or is it just another juxtaposition of past and present, light and dark, analog pain and digital distraction? Such is life now: So many platforms. So many human emotions. Gotta catch ’em all.

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