The other day, on my way to work, three teenage girls in graphic tees and glasses walked right into me outside a 7-Eleven.
It was clear from the iPhones in their hands and that strange swiping motion they were making they were playing Pokémon Go.
For those of you who aren’t one of the millions of people who have downloaded the free app already, Pokémon Go is a hugely popular augmented reality game where users “capture” virtual creatures — Pokémon — on their phones and wage war against each other. It boasts more than 30 million downloads and $35 million in revenues so far and is the first mobile game to surpass 10 million downloads in a week.
Despite its popularity in about 20 countries, the game was just released in Japan — the origin of Pokémon — today, with more than 1.3 million downloads in just the first three hours of its release.
In just two weeks, this game has become a global phenomenon.
And I’m not into it.
I had a debate with a coworker the other day about the game. He says it’s getting people out and about, tricking users into exercising when they likely would be sitting behind a game console. Isn’t that a good thing?
Uh, not when they’re walking into me at 7-Eleven!
I’ve seen people armed with iPhones wandering into our cul-de-sac — even in our driveway! — chasing virtual Pikachus and Jigglypuffs. That’s not cool. They walk in the middle of streets, wander grocery stores and public parks like zombies. It’s a bit annoying, to be honest.
We live in a beautiful place, designed with trees and blue skies and rainbows. How could an augmented reality be better? Look up from your iPhone or you’ll miss it.
And yet, people would rather live in an artificial world chasing virtual monsters. It’s just strange and sad to me. (Not to mention — and cue the conspiracy theorists — who knows who’s mining your phone for data on you!)
The game is already being blamed for accidents, crimes and injuries. (Japan’s government has warned players not to enter dangerous places, wander into obstacles or ride bicycles while playing the game. West Japan Railway banned it from train platforms.)
A man crashed his vehicle into a police car in Baltimore while using the app. (The entire thing was capture on police video.) In Delaware, a group of people assaulted and robbed a 20-year-old user. (The assailants, who stole cash and a gold chain, were playing the game, too.) And a registered sex offender in Indiana was caught playing the game with a 16-year-old boy, violating his probation.
I’m not anti-game. In fact, I had every game console every created. (I don’t think that’s entirely true, but it did start with an Atari and I was a bit obsessed with a Super NES and GameBoy for much of my teen years.) But I’ve resisted video games since college and have never played a single smartphone game — no Bejeweled or Angry Birds or Candy Crush — ever. Not one.
The reason is simple: There’s so much more to do than sit and matching lemon drops. (Though, I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted.) I’d rather surf or hike or walk my dogs — or even purge my closet — than waste time on an iPhone that I already feel I’m tethered to.
Not to judge anyone who downloads Pokémon Go and finds entertainment in capturing Mews and Muks. Really, I shouldn’t care what people do in their spare time. But just don’t wander into my driveway or run into me while I’m drinking a Slurpee. I’d like to stay out of your augmented reality, thanks.