Sometimes it’s hard to remember life without smartphones. Receiving breaking news alerts as they happen and navigating seamlessly with Google maps is pretty amazing—and something we usually take for granted.
As with any form of progress, though, there are ways in which the same technology that improves our lives can detract from it, too. Hiding behind a screen can sometimes allow us to forget common decency.
In little more than a week, Pokémon Go has quickly ascended to the top of App Store downloads, even surpassing Twitter in number of active users. Despite its lightning-speed success and whimsical premise, the game isn’t without its drawbacks.
How the app works
By their very nature, video games have always been a little isolating. Or at least they were.
Pokémon Go flipped that premise on its head. The game forces players to get out into the “real” world—because, of course, you gotta #catchemall. The GPS-based game incorporates the players’ real-life location to send them on a scavenger hunt to catch everything from Goldeens to Snorlax. The app also features “Pokéstops” at notable landmarks and locations, where users can re-up on supplies to help them catch pokémon. And this is where app developer Niantic opened the door for controversy.
It’s all about perspective
Perhaps the most unsettling side effect of the craze is Niantic’s inclusion of vastly inappropriate landmarks. News outlets have reported on players chasing Pidgeys and Doduos in sensitive locations—from the Arlington National Cemetery and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, to the 9/11 Memorial in New York, and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Instead of reflecting on the somber significance of each of these landmarks—and honoring the memories of those who lost their lives—players have found themselves more concerned with snagging a rare pokémon for their collection. These are monuments that put life in perspective—and that perspective is being eclipsed by a game.
In some ways, the enthusiastic response to Pokemon Go is an indicator of a more pervasive detachment from reality among Millennials. This audience has felt the brunt of anger and rejection on channels like Instagram or Reddit—where trolls routinely leave hurtful, judgmental, and prejudicial comments, often behind a digital veil of anonymity—which makes the world of Pokemon Go all the more appealing.
Tech for good
All of this is not to say that Pokémon Go is purely a dark or soulless experience. The app has also given way to some incredibly positive side effects, too.
Those suffering from social anxiety and depression are discovering a new world, allowing them to interact and engage in ways that may have felt impossible. And users as a whole are forming perhaps unlikely friendships (or maybe alliances—#TeamValor!) with neighbors and coworkers they may have otherwise ignored. It’s because the app is uniting people—and the drive to find each creature is truly race-, age-, and gender-blind. You are not alone in your quest. There are people gathering in parks, on the street, and on public transportation both doling out and seeking advice for the game.
But the app’s effects are not purely social. Apps like Wooftrax have found a way to translate the obsession into altruism by monitoring users’ steps to raise money for animal shelters and rescue dogs. The more steps you take, the more money you raise. Similarly, Charity Miles donates a few cents per mile of physical activity to a charity of your choice.
Not convinced that Pokémon Go will have an impact on these apps? A spokesman for the organization confirmed that during the past weekend, the number of miles logged spiked exponentially. Entirely of their own accord, Pokémon Go fans have been running the CharityMiles app as they earn points in the game.
The most exciting part is that all of this good has emerged in just a few days. While we hope Niantic will revisit Pokémon Go’s app and policies—perhaps creating off-limits areas of the map, for starters—we can’t wait to see the next generation of good that may emerge.