Could Pokémon Go be what America needs right now?

It seems a bit strange to me too that I’m writing this week’s story about Pokémon Go, the newest video game app, especially because I have been brutally mocking L for playing it for the last few days.

When my brother and I were kids, we used to walk to Sullivan’s Toy Store in DC, where he would take out all the coins he had saved in his piggy bank to buy Pokémon Discs. I never knew exactly how the game was played, but I knew it was important. I knew that discs could be traded. And that’s about it. (Update: I checked with him, and he actually said it was Pogs, but I’m leaving it in for the sake of the story. Storytellers can do that, right?) 

Now, in just a few days Pokémon Go, a video game that people play through their phones, is incredibly popular. Over 7 million people are suddenly playing it. From my limited understanding, the game fuses the 90’s game of Pokémon with local geography. Basically, the goal is to catch Pokémon’s, but unlike other video games, Pokémon Go forces players to get off the couch and out into the real world. You can catch Pokémon (apparently the plural of Pokémon is Pokémon) at your Local Park or museum, and they appear to be where you actually are. You see landmarks in your neighborhoods, and you learn about your city.

I definitely scoffed when L was trying to catch Pokémon in the apartment. But yesterday evening, when we went to a park for a stroll, we noticed a bunch of people playing. Some of them gave friendly advice, an older couple wanted to know how it was played, and it actually brought people together.  

People of all ages, genders, races, walks of life, you name it – everyone had one thing in common – trying to catch Pokémon. As absurd as it may sound, it was effective. People immediately caught each other’s eyes and smiled when it became obvious that they were on the hunt (holding their phones out in front of them awkwardly). It was really fun – so fun that I actually downloaded the game myself.  

It made me think that maybe the release of Pokémon Go was perfect timing for America. With the recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers in Dallas, maybe we all need something silly and light to connect over. Of course, this doesn’t solve any of the systemic racism in America. Yet maybe, just maybe, it can help create community in a country that sorely needs that right now.

Of course, I know there have been all kinds of safety concerns over privacy, people getting lured to unfamiliar neighborhoods, and people injuring themselves, so if you are playing, please be careful. Yet this skeptic may just be a Pokémon convert.

Are you playing Pokémon Go? Have you ever been a skeptic about something and then changed your mind? Do you have thoughts to share about the current state of America? If so, please chime in below. I would love to hear your stories.