I'm the early tech adopter in our household; it took me nearly three years to sell my husband on the delights of a smartphone. Thus it came as something of a surprise when he came home the other night and told me about the new Pokemon Go app. I hadn't heard of it and it had already been out for a week! I'm the wrong age for Pokemon. It has nostalgia for him, though, because his stepson was about seven when the game originally came out. Later, his daughter fell in love with the game, too, although she had grown out of it by the time we met. I saw how he lit up as he was telling me about this new phone app, and it was awfully cute.
I smiled to myself, because I could see it coming a mile away. (See what I did there?). This game was going to be much more fun on foot than it was in our living room. I wasn't sure how long he would hold out, but I figured it was three days, max. I casually offered to go with him if he wanted to go out and catch some pocket monsters. The very next night, we did.
Most days, I get my target miles in by making up tasks and errands to do around town. I might stop in any of five cafés, two grocery stores, a post office, two library branches, or three movie theaters. Every now and then, my ambit expands, and I'll make a special trip to see a movie that isn't available any nearer, or pick up a book at a more distant library outpost. I might add an extra three or four miles on a day like that. Gamifying exercise works, and I know it. After a while, your legs simply demand to MOVE and sitting still isn't an option. The trick is getting past the first three weeks, when your legs still demand to SIT.
We hadn't made it to the first intersection before we spotted a child who looked like she might be playing the same game we were. With her was a teenaged girl walking a dog. We passed a training center, but my husband hadn't leveled up enough to use it yet. We walked through a business park, where we saw our first confirmed case of a fellow adult playing Pokemon Go. He was at least thirty and dressed like a security guard. As we made it to the large shopping center that appeared to have the most virtual activity, we started seeing a LOT of other people with the game clearly visible on their screens. Literally a couple dozen.
As far as we could tell, in our neighborhood, it was about three adults to every child. There were a daddy with two sons, a mommy with two daughters, young couples, gaming buddies, and even a young guy with a cane. Most players were over thirty. Almost everyone appeared to be, shall I say, an exercise novice. Sitting a lot in our world of technology tends to cause the shoulders to slump and roll forward. Driving, sitting in front of a computer, hunching over a phone or tablet, sewing, reading, and watching TV all tend to create this slouchy posture. It leads to chronic neck and shoulder tension. That's the main reason I walk at least three miles a day; I type too much and walking helps roll my shoulders back where they belong.
The way the game works, every player can see the same virtual features laid over the same real world locations. The training centers are the same for everyone in town, and the same creatures and prizes appear in the same spots. What this does is to build an instant Nerd-o-Rama, with small crowds of t-shirt-clad gamers gathered around what are normally deserted public plazas. These are nice spots, and it's a bit uncanny how well the game world corresponds with places that are worth going. Public art, benches, fountains, murals, well-lit areas that were already designed for casual social contact and relaxation. People were shyly smiling at each other as we all realized we were there for the same reason - a non-competitive, non-zero-sum reason. Unlimited numbers of players can all catch the same Pokemon at the same time, and nobody loses.
You know what would happen if everyone played this game? Every neighborhood would be safe. Dozens of people out and about, equipped with phones, video cameras, first aid triage apps, etc. What I mean by that is: witnesses. In this game, there would be few scarily isolated areas left in the real world.
On the way home, we passed a tiny park, a monument to the town founder. I pass this park twice a day, nearly every day of the week, and I think I've only seen anyone there once. All it has is a statue, a big flag, a couple of benches, and a dog bag dispenser. Now, though, it's a Pokemon Go training center. There were nearly a dozen people gathered around, and it was 9 PM on a weeknight.
We had a great night. It felt like a date, with a festival air reminiscent of Halloween. Spike had the time of his life, with all sorts of people cooing at him, and a convertible full of four cute young women making smooching sounds at him. I made the Overlord happy and got my Apple Watch exercise quota for the day. My husband caught fifteen Pokemon and found ten potions, eleven revive, thee incense, and six eggs, although a rare Onix escaped after he caught it. He gained two levels, and we were able to stop at the training center on the way home.
We wound up walking over three miles.
I have always thought that gamers could be the most physically fit people who ever lived, given the right incentives and the right technology. Imagine having to hurdle fences, climb ladders, run endlessly, and fight avatars by moving your actual biological self! It would be like an esoteric monastic discipline, requiring many hours of meditation and physical conditioning. This may still happen; watching the Dance Dance Revolution console at any arcade should give a convincing image. What I never thought of was that gaming could bring so many introverts and shy people out into public places. The next step is obviously a social feature that has people reaching out to talk to one another. Maybe a setting could indicate whether a player was up for interaction. I like where this is going, and I hope the trend continues.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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