By Jonathan Zelinger || Contributing Writer
With the shape that our country is in, it forces me to think back to a simpler time. A time where people weren’t plagued with the effects of mass political polarization, fear of arbitrary and hateful Muslim bans, and a shit load of school to compliment our country’s terrible state. I think back to this summer, where Trump was still considered as a joke candidate, there was less school work to be done, and most notably, everyone was chasing little virtual Pokemon around. This summer, as an erratic sleeper, I often found myself roaming the local neighborhood deep into late nights. Buchanan Park, adjacent to my house, was where these “worry walks of nocturnal over-analysis” usually ended. I’d sit at this rusty, wooden picnic table and stare out into the dark empty park and appreciate the moments on this earth I get to sit alone, my mind liberated by unbridled silence. This was my unscripted routine for about two years. That was, until midway through last summer. One night last summer at around 2a.m., as I surveyed the circumambient greens of the park, people began emerging out of every distinguishable shadow. At first thought, I figured I was just coincidently vacating the same space as a religious cult, possibly about to witness my first sacrifice. But as the figures drew closer, they all seemed to have one thing in common. No, they weren’t all in cloaks. It was their eyes. Their eyes were enrapted in their phone screens. As they approached, I kindly, with a tone of genuine curiosity, yelled, “so, what’s everyone doing here?” Everyone’s head sprung from the ground, looking like floating eyes in the distance, feeling more like owls than humans. The voice of a grown man awkwardly responded, “looking for Pokemons.” I winced out of embarrassment for the human race, facilely responding,“sounds good” and headed home. I had heard about the game, but knew very little about it. I was compelled. How could this game motivate so many people to leave their homes in the middle of night, sacrificing sleep? If I wanted to look for things that didn’t exist, I’d have taken shrooms or hunt for golden treasure. What was different about Pokemon Go?
For the few us that don’t use Pokemon Go, it’s an interactive game played on smartphones. The game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, called Pokemon, who appear on device screens as though in the real world. It is a free game that incorporates your smartphone’s camera and GPS. After logging into the app for the first time, the player creates their avatar. The player can choose the avatar’s gender, hair, skin, and eye color, and choose from a limited number of outfits. After the avatar is created, it is displayed at the player’s current location along with a map of the player’s immediate surroundings. Features on the map include a number of PokéStops and Pokémon gyms. These are typically located at places of interest.
As players travel the real world, their avatar moves along the game’s map. Pokémon species reside in different areas of the world; for example, water-type Pokémon are generally found near water.
After interviewing Pokemon Go users around my neighborhood, the appealing factors of this game became evident. For starters, it’s a fad. On July 12th the game became the most active mobile game in the U.S ever with 21 million active users, eclipsing candy crush saga’s peak of 20 million users. There is nothing new about joining a trend. It is gratifying to be apart of something that feels bigger than yourself. But that still didn’t answer why it had everyone roaming the streets at 2am on a Monday night. Then after one interview with a 22 year old college senior, I was able to reach new insight. “I loved Pokemon as a kid, going home playing the Pokemon game on my gameboy, doesn’t get much better than that.”
This guy, like many others who search late at night for fake creatures, aren’t so much looking for charizards or pichichus, as they are trying to recapture a part of their childhood. This game appears to have a latent tendency that allows users to transport themselves back into the more epicurean lifestyle they once lived. A time where they were able to seek out the maximum amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain. A time where you could go home and play pokemon on your gameboy instead of writing a research paper. When that grown man’s voice yelled back at me, “looking for Pokemon!” I think he really meant to say “looking for some type of nostalgic happiness!”
Though, this is only part of the reason it’s so successful. Yes, it’s the gratification of connecting with a familiar form of happiness, but it’s the interactive nature of the game that really sets it apart. All games, such as this one, can’t bring you back in time. They can only emulate a feeling you once had. With its interactive style it makes the chase more real. You are actively, with your body, chasing something you once felt. The actions masquerade the unbearable fact that moments are fleeting and ephemeral. It might be the closest thing to a time machine we have, and I can say for sure, that I would wake up at anytime of the night to make myself feel young again, to feel that familiar, safe passionate again. I refer to it as safe passion because the game, like every game, is designed to give it’s users short tangible success, over and over again. There is no failing in Pokemon Go, and if there is, it’s still not reality. It’s safe to be passionate about something you can’t fail at.
Is this the right way to capture happiness? I can’t possibly say, but indulgence, is never a sound practice. Pokemon Go is a wonderful distraction from all that is happening in the world today. The game was released at such a great time. A time where people just need anything to distract themselves from the state our country is in and might be in the future. There is a lack of controversy with Pokemon, especially in a time of racial heat. Pokemons are multicolored. They have no preconceived notions of social paradigms that are connected with pigmentation of skin. No matter your political beliefs, I have to believe you want peace, even if I disagree with how you want to achieve it. There is peace in Pokemon. There is a crowded, Buchanon Park at 2:00 am on a Monday, filled with people talking, strategizing, bonding over catching fake creatures.
Junior Jonathan Zelinger is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.