Pokémon Go

Last night, as the sun dipped into a blackening sky, with a waning gibbous moon outlined by haze, my husband and I sat out on the back deck, as we often do in the summer, to idly chat and enjoy one another’s company–me with a glass of red wine, he with a water or beer. Two candle lanterns his mom had gotten us flickered in the night, and soon enough the green foliage abounding us was covered by shadows, and we could hear night birds calling and the rustle of wildlife climbing in trees. Our conversations are usually goofy. It reminds me of high school when you had slumber parties with friends and just talk about anything and everything. Those sweet moments embed themselves into your heart, and are never forgotten. Oh, last night we talked about this and that, and soon enough, like many in the world, we began to wonder at the viral sensation of Pokémon Go. It’s a phone app, not yet released in Canada. The franchise of Pokémon began in the mid-1990s; the name stands for Pocket Monsters in Japanese.

Morgan and I were both not really into the games, movies, and books. But of course we were aware of it as it crept into pop culture. The franchise has been fairly silent for many years until now, with the release of this phone app that encourages its players to go outside, walk, explore, perhaps meet new friends–as they search down a Pokémon to capture. It’s been quite the buzz, even in my runner’s group. At first the other runners complained that they were being plowed down by cyclists searching for their Pokémons, or the runners had to contend with gatherings of screen-in-face crowds out on the trail blocking the runners. But now some of the runners are embracing it, minimally because it does get people outside and doing long walks. And some of the runners are trying it.

I probably will never try it, and though my initial thought was, “really, what?!” I see that my version of “huh” is someone else’s version of fun, so be it. Who am I to judge what anyone does with their own time. And I do see the value of getting people outside to explore nature, even if on their phones. I am reminded of days on end where I would walk for hours with my head in a book, engrossed in the story I would be reading while also enjoying the great outdoors and trying not to bump into people or trees or … cars.

Last night I got on  a roll about, “Why isn’t there an app that could discover real creatures?!” I rambled on about heat maps and movement sensors and other technical advances, including augmented reality that is already a part of this new app. A player could find a real thing, like a worm or an insect. And the virtual display would pop up when they got close to it and the user could find all about it. Where it lives. Where it goes. How it’s good for the environment. That sort of thing. Then I wondered: are real creatures as fascinating as virtual ones? We had some laugh as my theories went down the vague stretches of imagination that late nights cause.

This morning, however, I came across this article by The Washington Post, “What wildlife scientists and nature lovers can learn from Pokémon Go.”

To some scientists, the Pokémon craze actually fits right in with the idea that people have an intrinsic fascination with the natural world. According to Lees, humans have an “innate desire” to hunt down and classify the animals around them. Pokémon is just an artificial form of what humans have been doing in the real world for millennia.

“Even as adults, we have this sort of preprogrammed hunting instinct,” he noted, which can take the form of bird-watching, wildlife photography or other wildlife-spotting hobbies. So in some ways, it’s not surprising that a game that involves running around and catching little animals — even imaginary ones — would become popular.

The problem is that its popularity seems to have surpassed that of the real, natural world. Back during the original Pokémon craze, which lasted from the mid-1990s into the 2000s, research suggested that children were better at identifying Pokémon than real animals.

Again, I’m not going to knock this game. It gets people outdoors. It gets them into nature. That’s a good thing. I love it when people are having a good time and learning. My initial reaction was generally the same kind I feel when people spend so much time on screens that the real world becomes a second reality. We all know the uncomfortable silence at family reunions when that one person just has to get on their phone instead of engaging with people in front of them.

And, coming back to the real world here, just a couple updates. I am really looking forward to doing work with the local Streamkeeper group I joined. The folks are down-to-earth, very friendly, and a diverse group. We will be pulling invasive plants and laying spawning gravel soon. Before I joined they had also released salmon (I assume frys) into the creek. And in September there is a Tree Fest we’ll be at, though the group typically does the blackberry booth, so we’ll be picking plenty of blackberries. They are ripening quite nicely now!

As far as running goes, I feel that with the busy-ness of summer, I’m all over the place, so starting on Tuesday I am going start the 10K training again. My next 10K is on October 31 (Great Climate Race), and I would like to set a PR for doing that. The 10K is a good training plan. I already know I can run it, and go further, but the training forces you to discipline yourself as far as intervals, distance, and time.