When I was six years old, I caught a Pikachu while playing Pokémon Red on my first Gameboy. For me, it was a pretty momentous event, but who did I share the experience with?
- A few playground friends who shrugged me off to play double-dutch.
- My parents who told me to go play with the other kids.
- And finally, my older brother who took my Gameboy away to prove to me he could raise a Pikachu better than I could.
Unless I was showing off my Pokédex or card collection, my young gaming experiences were mostly solitary, but today, gaming is no longer restricted to the individual. All major gaming consoles, like Xbox or PlayStation, come with their own internet-based social media access, allowing player to connect, play with, and share achievements with a vast expanse of old and new friends. Players can feel like they’re being social without actually being around anyone, which is an improvement from past gaming technology, but still doesn’t help players sharpen their interpersonal skills in the way real-life interactions would.
Pokémon Go has taken gaming to the next step. When asked about this new craze, Media & Culture author Christopher Martin said:
"This game bridges the gap between gaming and augmented reality. It literally takes the game everywhere, out into the community, out into the world."
It would be difficult to find a Pokémon Go player who disagrees. Unlike most gaming platforms (and unlike many social media networks), Pokémon Go encourages communication in the real, physical world, rather than in front of a console. Pokémon Go players often get together in search of a Pikachu or a Charmander; there are even Facebook group for particular geographic regions(Pokémon Go in the Hudson Valley, for example), which plan walks and meetups for different Pokémon Go Teams (Valor, Mystic, and Instinct). When I joined, there were about fifty members from my hometown. Now there are almost 1,000. While I am strategizing with members on how to take over different “gyms” nearby, I’m also connecting with people from my high school that I’ve *gasp* never spoken to before.
Like all forms of communication, there is a dark side to Pokémon Go. People are walking into traffic and crashing their cars while playing, while some criminals are even using lure modules as bait for robberies.
Rather than focus on the negative conflicts arising from these events, I’d like to stay a little more upbeat about the future of gaming and augmented reality, and how these can improve the ways we communicate. A shared love of Pokémon Go is transcending social norms. People of all ages, ethnic groups, and social backgrounds can be seen huddling at Pokéstops, lure modules, and areas of high activity. Real world gaming is making it easier for people to connect with each other without most of the anxieties they may usually face. It’s an unspoken invitation to communicate.
“Hey, there’s a Legendary around here!”
“What’d you catch?”
“There’s a Pokémon here I couldn’t get! Can you give me some advice?”
“Let’s meet up and get our gym back.”