Every handful of years a cultural craze will sweep through our society and redefine our relationship with the world and how we interact with one another. Increasingly, these moments are being brought about by our obsession with smartphones and the opportunities for new experiences which these sophisticated gadgets provide.
Pokémon Go is the most recent of these cultural crazes to spring forth from our smartphones. It is the most successful mobile app ever, generating $500 million in customer spend from the Google Play Store and App Store in just 60 days and is being played by millions of people across the globe regardless of age, gender or social status. The Norwegian minister was even caught playing the addictive game during a defense hearing. Its impact has been wrestled with in the global mainstream media like a frisky Pikachu, with the seemingly inevitable hysteria over whether or not an activity which is in essence a video game is a harmless fad soon likely to pass, or a social evil wreaking untold ills on our children.
The debate has been fuelled in recent weeks with headline-grabbers such as the Pokémon player finding a body in a river whilst on the hunt for the famous critters and robbers using Pokémon creatures to bait victims. The game’s developer, Niantic, is even being sued because of the trouble blamed on the augmented reality game.
The next frontier for social
Pokémon Go’s huge commercial success is undoubtedly being driven by smartphone technology, but the foundation of Pokemon Go’s popularity is built on the very human desire for companionship and social interaction.
At first glance, Pokemon Go does not appear to be the most social of apps: groups of players wandering (often Zombie-like) through town centres or parks glued to their phones, apparently oblivious of the world passing them by. But, crucially, Pokemon Go is the first mobile app game of its kind which demands of its players not just a mobile internet connection but the need to physically be together to play. The point of the game is to go out together, in groups, and work together in a bid to increase your Pokémon collection.
Despite the augmented reality jiggery-pokery of Pokémon Go, the app is in many ways a hark back to the pre-video game era where children would be required to ‘make their own fun’, before the pixelated worlds of Super Mario, Sonic or Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider became so ingrained in our culture. Players are required to get off the couch, head out into the great outdoors with a bunch of buddies and get hunting for little monsters. It’s a mobile treasure hunt for the smartphone generation and, unlike the giant social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, this social platform is all about inter-human interaction, rather than just virtual friendships.
The return of face-to-face
Parents, of course, are delighted. Here is an app which gets their children off the sofa, meeting new people and dashing about working up a sweat chasing harmless pixel critters. And this parental nod of approval is getting developers and marketers licking their lips at the further potential of augmented reality software, with many tech commentators recognising that Pokemon Go might just be the killer application the world has been waiting for to kick-start the augmented reality genre and give tech flops like Google Glass a mainstream market.
Pokémon Go shows us that the digital world and human interaction are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, perhaps the one thing Pokemon Go has taught the tech community, is that our mobile phones and social media platforms can be used to nurture traditional, face-to-face relationships.