Popular Culture

Pokémon Bringing People Together

Stop listening to pols and go play outside



Have you heard about Pokémon Go? The new augmented reality mobile phone game was released last week and already has millions of downloads—more people have installed Pokemon Go than Tinder, a popular hook up app. Social media feeds over the weekend were mostly about the Dallas shooting, police violence, and/or Pokémon Go. (Also sports stuff happened/is happening).

Pokémon Go, like a lot of cultural products, cuts across socioeconomic, racial, and other dividing lines drawn up and exploited by the political mainstream. As one prominent social media tech commentator noted, Pokémon Go is obviously only possible in a capitalist society, even if it's not necessary in a capitalist society to understand how capitalism works or even to support it (although when a critical mass of people neither understand nor support it, the political class can and does do serious damage to it.

I came across one story (it may be apocryphal—but even apocryphal stories exist because they make a relevant point, right? Anyway, I want to believe) that exemplified this disconnect between the culture and the politics and how the politics can inject paranoia, distrust, and tension into the culture and broader society.

The anecdote, via Reddit:

Ok, reporting in. Couldn't sleep so I downloaded the game and took a 3am walk. There is a little park a few blocks from me that had like three pokestops and a gym, so I wandered over there to see what the game could offer. Picked up an Evee outside my house and a couple of trash pokes on the way to the park.

So I get there and wander around a little checking out the stops and rustling around in the tall grass, then decide to go a few blocks away to see a couple more stops when I hear from the darkness a "Yo, my man!"

Turning I see two sketchy looking dudes sitting on a bench in the dark. I must have walked right past them without noticing them Great. One of them waves "My man, check over by the blue truck over there we got an onyx earlier."

So I wander over by the truck and sure enough there's a fucking onyx there. Awesome. So I end up chatting with the guys for a bit, told em where I got my evee, they convinced me to join red team when I hit level five so we could "lock shit down" in the neighbourhood.

Then the cop shows up.

Yeah, so it turns out two twentysomething black dudes and a forty year old white guy chilling in the park at 3am looks strange. It took a bit of talking to convince the cop we weren't doing a drug deal, and a bit longer to explain the game. Then the cop downloaded the fucking game on his phone and asked us how to get started.

Go red team.

The Pokemon Go game also cuts against the trend toward fearmongering over free-range kids, which is leading to more people calling for more police officers to enforce more laws on more children. Pokémon Go encourages people to go out, explore the world around them, and meet new people, instead of assuming everyone is a potential threat that only a strong government with powerful enforcement mechanisms can protect us from.

It may be possible someone has a hot take about Pokémon Go and how half the country is playing it while the other half worries about police violence. It's possible to do both, while that's the kind of black and white thinking that has made policy reforms that are tantalizingly achievable harder to attain. Those kind of voices should be rejected.