If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, and you thought the Zombie Apocalypse would go down with flesh eating creatures all around, spreading their contagion, while everyone scrambles for food and resources– you got it all wrong. The Zombie Apocalypse is here, and it’s a much kinder, gentler event. It involves folks with cell phones, generally held aloft, out for a walk. It does in fact seem to be very contagious, having spread faster in a few weeks, than anything I’ve seen in my 53 years. It has definitely had an impact on parking, where I live, and crowds, where I like to walk, but no food shortages, and no rotting flesh… so far.
But make no mistake: Pokemon go has taken over! If you are my age, you have probably wondered why there are a lot more “young people” out walking, in recent weeks. It’s not just the summer weather; it’s Pokemon Go. On Sunday, July 10th, the fourth day of release, my husband and I went for a walk along the boardwalk, where we live. We happen to live in one of the most beautiful places possible. The boardwalk extends out over the bay, and that night the sun left millions of diamonds sparkling on the water. We had noted that there wasn’t a single parking spot– unusual, but not unheard of, on a warm Sunday night. We also noticed that a lot of people had their phones out– a little stranger. When I noted that many of them were yelling things like: “I’ve got 490,” and “I just got a fairy,” I made the connection.
Four days before that, my son and a friend of his, had come home and enthusiastically told me they’d been out looking for Pokemons on their phones. I hadn’t heard my 20 year-old son mention Pokemon, since he packed up his card collection, ten years earlier. They explained that it was a new App for phones, which works with your GPS, to put you in a Pokemon world, using your surroundings as a backdrop. Imagine: you look through the camera on your phone screen and there’s a Pokemon character in the scene. Now, imagine that you touch the screen (I’m simplifying here), and you get points for catching these characters. That is Pokemon Go… over simplified, the very enthusiastic Pokemon zombies would tell you, and this is indeed an epidemic. On that Sunday, day four of the game’s release, after already having walked past at least 100 people, I began asking EVERY SINGLE person we passed, if they were playing Pokemon. Of the 100 people I asked, only 6 were not playing Pokemon Go!
Further evidence that this is the Zombie Apocalypse: just pause for a moment and watch these folks. They stagger around waving their phones in the air, or stare off at the landscape, with a feverish look: zombie. They cluster together, and non-players have to jump out of their way, zombie. They touch you, and show you their screen, and next thing you know, you’re playing too, zombies. I have seen folks run into the street, phone held high, entirely unaware that I almost killed them. I’ve seen single zombies as well as groups, hustling down the street, headed for the nearest “gym.” This is not an actual gym, where people work out, but a Pokemon Go site, where epic battles are fought, generally located in places that the rest of us would otherwise enjoy for… say, taking a walk at sunset.
When I posted my initial findings on my Facebook page, as a humorous observation: “100 people asked, only 6 not playing Pokemon,” along with a photo of said diamond night, there was lots of criticism. “This makes me so sad,” said one friend. Others criticized the overuse of cell phones, and one more thing that takes young people out of the “here and now.” The consensus was that we are indeed going to hell in a hand basket. And that’s when something strange happened: I found myself defending the Zombie Apocalypse. Having avoided the trend in zombie-everything, for the past several years, this was more than a little surprising to me. Me, defending zombies? Me, defending more tech distractions, and smart phone use? Me defending a crowd mentality? Apparently, yes.
These folks are NOT playing Pokemon Go:
Let me explain. I am one of the first people to complain about what I perceive to be a lack of connectivity in society– with people texting, rather than phoning; Facebook being the main venue for many people when it comes to “friends,” and a sense of alienation that many people feel. We rely on smart phones for so many of our needs and connections. It’s nearly impossible to go out to a restaurant, concert, movie, (you name it), and not find a sea of screens lit up. If we have a question while out with friends, it’s a race to draw out phones and look up the answer. God forbid we simply remain uninformed for the course of a meal. In some circles, entire relationships are started, had, and ended online, not in person! While I love my smart phone, and use it for a lot, I resent the way these pervasive trends dominate so many social interactions, often isolating people, rather than connecting them. Throw in video gaming, where people are inside, and often playing with others, only through a screen, and… well, as you can see, there’s a lot to be potentially critical of.
However, Pokemon Go seems to be changing a lot of that. I have seen more young people outside, over the past two weeks, than I recall seeing in a very long time! Yes, they are playing a video game, but most of them are doing it with other people. They are playing and having fun, outside. Many of them are pausing to look up and take a photo of a sunset, which they might have otherwise missed. They are out in the parks; they are downtown getting a bite to eat, while they play; they are laughing and talking to each other. They are going places that they might not have gone, and as a side advantage: we saw a lot of dogs getting walked in the deal!
My husband noted, “some of these people don’t look like they’ve been outside in a while!” This was confirmed moments later, when one of the young women I questioned, told me just how much Pokemon Go has changed her usual routine. Her enthusiasm was contagious! “I’m a total Geek,” she stated matter of factly. “Normally, I’d go to work, and then I’d come home and be gaming. We are outdoors people, but this really makes it more fun!” She went on to tell me that she feels like this huge Pokemon Go bubble is her chance to not miss out. “I missed the whole Sega wave, and I’ve always wished I had been around for it. This gives me a chance to engage in something exciting and new!” I heard that a lot: “I’ve always been a geek, and now I feel like part of something! We’re all out here doing the same thing!” And, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, everyone’s having fun, doing the same thing!”
As with anything, there has been plenty of criticism as well. Pokemon Go made the news this past week, when it was revealed that Pokemon characters were showing up at The National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and equally horrifying, at Auschwitz, itself. This is unacceptable, and doesn’t make for good publicity for the game. I believe it’s incumbent upon the makers of the game to show integrity, as players are going to play the game that is provided. Pokemon Go should not allow characters in places that are sacred or publicly important. Graveyards, holy sites, sacred lands of First Nations and Native Americans, National Memorials and museums, to name a few. As the game spreads around the world, it is appalling to imagine people playing the game at Hiroshima, in Japan; the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock Mosque, in Israel; Pearl Harbor; the 9/11 Memorial; the Wounded Knee Massacre memorial; the Holocaust death camp memorials, and so many other important and sacred places. These are sacred spaces, not places to play games! And yet, that’s what has been happening. While we should all know better, again, I believe this is something the makers of the game must be responsible for.
There are plenty who disagree with me, when I defend Pokemon Go, and the masses of people playing it. No doubt, I haven’t been happy about not finding a parking place for my favorite nightly walk, or the folks who don’t watch where they’re going, in search of Pokemon wins, but I have been equally amused and happy to see so many other people out there enjoying the same places I love. I have been happy to see parents playing with their kids, rather than checking their texts and Facebook, while their kids vie for attention. I have enjoyed watching kids explain the game to their parents and grandparents. However crazy it may appear, I’ve loved watching the moments of connection.
And for now, that’s what I’m taking away from this craze: engagement. People of all ages, though mostly younger, are engaging. They’re talking to me, and happy to tell me about what they’re doing. They’re talking to each other, as they all try and get new high scores. They’re engaging in their communities and the out of doors. These zombies are not the brain dead creatures that I expected from a zombie apocalypse; they’re fun, and excited to spread more fun.
The arrival of Pokemon Go is not all bad; this is not the apocalypse we planned for. These zombies are engaged; they’re having fun, and they’re making history! Whether we like it or not, this is probably where things are headed for many other things. If you missed the massive jump in Nintendo stock– which has now plummeted, as investors learned that Nintendo does not own Pokemon Go, there will be other companies finding ways to make our phones interactive, other ways to pull us in to a tech world. We may all look back and realize that this was just a sweet beginning to much crazier zombie apocalypse; but for now, we are all safe to either join in or carry on. It’s hard to deny the joy and playfulness here!
Are you or someone you love a zombie? What are your thoughts on this incredible phenomenon? Share your thoughts in the comment section; I’m listening.
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