How Pokemon Go Is Affecting Players in Unexpected Ways

In Pokémon No!, an opinion piece published by Valley Community News, author James Peyton rails against Pokémon Go, saying it’s “the Walmart of video games. Stupid people doing stupid things.”

Peyton’s chief complaint is that Pokémon Go players have become a public nuisance by frequenting locations that are seldom populated, or are the wrong atmosphere for game-playing:

“Many of these places don’t know what the game even is, or why people are suddenly flocking all around. Imagine a sleepy store on the edge of downtown, with a few local senior citizens frequenting the place, when suddenly a bunch of beard-wearing, kale-eating, ringer tee having Starbucks going, bubble-tea drinking dimwits rush into the store like a flash mob and in 30 minutes are gone.”

While Peyton’s article is a figurative yell for Pokémon players to get off his lawn, not everyone feels the same vitriol for the burst of activity caused by the game.

As a director of connection and engagement, Nathan Rice of Modern Storytellers views the effects of Pokémon Go in a more positive light. “What I find unbelievably cool about the game is how it brings people together in completely unexpected ways. A typically lazy town green suddenly becomes teaming with people out and about (and talking).”

Even better, Pokémon Go seems to be bringing kids together in a way that transcends traditional schoolyard cliques.

“Kids that would not normally see each other outside of school or team sports are now outside saying hi, high-fiving and chatting it up,” says Nathan. “Parents, including me, are meeting new parents while the kids play and get together. I don't know how long the phenomenon lasts, but right now... how cool.”

Here’s an update of the many things, both good and bad, that Pokémon Go is getting credit for making happen:

Pokemon Go Players Are Getting More Exercise

Getting players up and walking around town is a chief positive aspect even those naysayers like Peyton can’t deny. For some players, the exercise is accidental. But, others are incorporating Pokémon Go as part of their fitness regimen.

“I have about ten people in my (very competitive) FitBit group, and I am number one by far thanks to Pokémon Go!” says Dan Nainan, a Manhattan-based comedian. Dan was already walking frequently. But now, thanks to Pokémon Go, he’s reaching 25,000 steps a day.

Pokemon Go Players Are Discovering New Places Around Town

Unlike almost every other screen-based game on the planet, Pokémon Go requires players to leave the comfort of their homes and couches. To collect virtual Pokémon characters, you must go out into the physical world and find them.

For the Beck family in California, getting outside to play Pokémon Go has had some unexpected benefits. “We discovered a community garden and a few murals we did not know existed while taking our kids out to play!”

John and Jamie Beck also have plans for the game in the near future. “We are now moving next week and will use it to help us get to know the area in a fun way and discover all the history and attractions in town!” 

Pokemon Go Community Meetup signImage via E! News

The Game is Also Helping Players Discover Potential Love Interests

Similar to the way that playing Pokémon Go has the side effect of burning calories, many players also accidentally meeting fellow enthusiasts and winding up on dates. E! News reports on multiple singles who’ve met their match in Bye Tinder! "Pokémon Go" Is Accidentally the Best New Dating App Ever.

Pokemon Go got me a date post​Image via E! News

“It’s perfect as a dating game,” Karen North, professor of digital social media at the USC Annenberg School, explained to Wired. “You meet someone with a common interest, engage in that activity together, and get a new challenge for tomorrow and the next day.”

Couples Are Also Growing Closer by Playing Pokemon Together

Eric Jackman, a producer on The MMA Hour is a self-professed Pokémon Go fan who wrote in to say that the game strengthened his marriage. Eric doesn’t just play daily, he reads Reddit for tips and updates, and goes out of his way for gyms and pokestops.

How did it help bring the couple closer together?

“I'm married to a lady who shares my obsession with the game, and it has provided us an activity to do together. A lot.”

Eric says that the couple plays Pokémon Go together nearly every day, “Whether it's taking down a gym in the evening or on our way to the next thing on our calendar (errands, dinner, etc.).”

He says that, if it weren’t for their shared love of the game, they’d still be spending time together. But, like most couples in the evening, both would be immersed in their own activities. “I might be on Twitter, and she might be watching a show on Hulu.”

“Now, with Pokémon Go, we've found something we do together quite a bit, both actively engaged.”

Of Course, Accidents Happen When You Don’t Watch Where You’re Going

Search online for accidents resulting from Pokémon Go, and there’s no denying the unfortunate consequences of players not paying attention.

“I've been playing Pokémon Go with my daughter, and overall it's been fun,” says Chris Brantner of Cut Cable Today.

“Unfortunately a few days ago, we were playing, and I was walking on the sidewalk where it is uneven. I tripped and sent my iPhone flying. Luckily I caught myself! But, my screen was shattered into a bazillion pieces.”

Chris’s mistake cost $100 to fix, and he's certainly not the only one to get hurt playing Pokémon because he wasn’t paying attention. But, is Pokémon Go really to blame for players who don’t bother to look up from their screens? There is, after all, an aspect of personal responsibility that comes into play.

For Some, Pokemon Go Presents a Chance to Feel Like a Normal Kid

Olivia Djouadi, a UKCP registered psychotherapist, wrote in to say that, rather than bad or difficult experiences with Pokémon Go, her family had a magical one.

“My son, Malik Djouadi, is 17 years old. He has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair full-time, so one may assume he can't play the game,” says Olivia.

“We were at Heathrow airport recently, coming back from a holiday, when our son got out his tablet to play. He started yelling 'Yes, yes! I got one!' I asked him what he meant. He said he found his first Pokémon by himself.”

“That was great news,” explains Olivia, since it gave Malik the chance to play just like his peers. “For Malik, it was a big win.”

Thinking About Trying Your Hand at Pokemon Go?

Jessica Winstead, a blogger at Curious Little Things, wrote in to say she still wasn’t sure about downloading the mobile app, despite growing up a fan of the original game. “Everyone I knew played Pokémon when I was young: girls, boys, athletes, nerds, even some parents! No one could resist the adorable characters and their “gotta catch ‘em all’ slogan.”

Like most of us, Jessica had been reading the disparaging comments online about how Pokémon Go turned people into zombies. “I worried about the amount of time I already spend glued to my phone.”

But, after weeks of watching her husband and friends have fun, Jessica says “I slowly found myself looking over their shoulder and living vicariously through their Pokedex so finally gave in. After all, it’s free, so I won’t feel bad if I need to delete it later to save myself from turning into a walking dead nightmare.”

“My worst fears were assuaged when we took our two dogs across the street from our apartment to the park and noticed it was the most crowded we had ever seen! People milling about everywhere, and yes looking down at their phones, but still talking to each other and engaging with the outside world.”

“For example, we would have never found that rare Vileplume if we hadn’t formed partnerships with our new Poke Trainer community!” she says.

Now, Jessica and her husband go to the park 3-4 times a week, when before they’d only ventured that far about once a month, maybe less. Even better, she says, they’ve never seen the park stay this crowded for so long.

Pokemon Go welcome sign

Folks like Peyton might consider crowded parks a negative (Get off my lawn!)—but, isn’t gathering around and having fun what parks are for?

Jessica adds that even her dogs have benefited from Pokémon Go. “They’ve made new friends! One of them has socializing issues, but he’s getting much better from being in crowds on a more frequent basis.”

Consider the Positives Before Making a Stand Against Pokemon Go

With so many great experiences shared by Pokémon Go users, you’d think that the app would be receiving loads of positive attention! Instead, news outlets appear to be portraying the popular app in an almost entirely negative light. Just check out these current headlines:

  • “Driver distracted by Pokémon Go kills woman in Japan”
  • “MP slammed for playing Pokemon Go in Parliament”
  • “Two Men Fall Off Cliff Near San Diego While Playing Pokémon Go”
  • “Pokémon Go Users Get Naked”
  • “Pokémon Go Sexual Predator Danger”
  • “Man Crashes Into Tree While Playing Pokémon Go”

What’s missing from many popular Pokémon Go headlines might be hard to spot if you’ve never used it—but, most fail to mention any positive aspect of playing.

What the game can do is get players off the couch and into the great outdoors, spark interest in discovering new places, encourage in-person social engagement, and even create an enjoyable opportunity to play across generations, giving Pokémon-loving parents an activity to do with their kids that both can enjoy.

What does that mean to you?

Making informed choices about what products, services, and applications you use can often mean looking past hyped-up promises to learn hidden costs or risks. Alternately, and in the case of Pokémon Go, being a smarter consumer involves considering benefits that aren’t being portrayed when the subject is painted with such a broad brush.

Like Anything, Playing Pokemon Go Demands Common Sense

Of course, common sense is required to play Pokémon Go. You should never walk around with your phone glued to your face, for risk of tripping and accidents. Additionally, don't play while driving, be courteous to businesses and other pedestrians. Talk to your children about being mindful of data usage and the app’s age restrictions.

See Also: Pokemon Go: From Accidents to Stranger Danger, Tips to Keeping Kids Safe

However, those guidelines are inherent to using any smartphone application, and aren’t unique to Pokémon Go.

With some sensible precautions (knowing where your children are and not playing while driving or walking, for example), players of all ages can avoid many of the implied negatives of playing Pokémon Go.

As for Jessica, she says “I’m happy I downloaded Pokémon Go, and as long as it keeps people outside and having fun, I’ll continue to be a contributing member.”

Main photo credit: Clerk

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Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.