Pokemon Go. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
The “augmented reality” app officially released on July 6, 2016 in the US and promptly took the country by storm.
Within days, Pokemon Go had more daily active users than Twitter, more downloads than the dating app Tinder, and had people spending a higher average time on the app than they did on Facebook.
Remember Candy Crush? Pokemon Go blew it out of the water.
For all of the uninitiated out there, allow me to briefly explain how the app works.
The basic premise of the game is to catch Pokemon. Pokemon are basically fantasy creatures with special powers. How do you catch Pokemon? You get out and walk.
Pokemon Go uses your phone’s GPS and maps (like many other apps do) to pinpoint your location in the real world. As you move around, your in-app avatar moves too. When you get close to a Pokemon, it will appear near your avatar, and you will be able to tap on it. After that, a new screen will come up where the player flicks a Pokeball at the creature in an attempt to catch it.
Once you’ve caught a Pokemon, you can train it up and try to battle a gym. Gyms are just places where players (or “trainers”) can battle other players’ Pokemon to test their strength and earn in-game rewards.
You can also visit interesting real world locations—museums, churches, art displays, memorials, etc.—called Pokestops to earn items.
There are quite a few other nuances to the game, but those are the basics. The game is one part collecting, one part competition and one part nostalgia for everyone who grew up playing and watching Pokemon in the ‘90s.
But if I thought Pokemon Go was just the next big app, I wouldn’t be writing about it here.
Perhaps the hype will die down and Pokemon Go will pass. But I, for one, hope that at least some of it lingers. Because in a few short weeks, Pokemon Go has managed to do something special.
It’s connecting people.
Not like one of the myriads of social apps where we can send texts and pictures and videos. I mean face-to-face—in person.
Savannah Ferguson, a student at Oklahoma Christian University, was working an internship in Tulsa when she started playing Pokemon Go.
“I didn’t really know anyone [in Tulsa],” Ferguson said. “At night I’d stay home and do nothing basically.”
But Pokemon Go got her out of the house to explore new places. One night, she thought she’d go somewhere new. She wound up in an area that had become a hub for Pokemon Go players. “I went alone and didn’t expect to stay long because I didn’t want to walk around by myself,” Ferguson said. “But I was quickly adopted into a group of people who welcomed me like I was their best friend.”
I’ve seen a medical student and a waiter meet for the first time and talk as if they were old friends. I’ve seen a mother and her teenage son who drove all the way from McAlester, OK to catch Pokemon in downtown OKC together. I’ve seen college students work together with a family of six to help the kids get a few catches.
Families, friends and strangers—young and old—going places they rarely go, meeting people they’ve never met, sharing something they enjoy.
In my opinion, that’s amazing.
Sadly, American culture today is one where it’s pretty easy to be distant. But I think Pokemon Go gives us a glimpse of how reclusive we’ve become and also of how great of a community we can be—if we just took the time to smile at strangers like we have something in common.
If you want to get into Pokemon Go, it’s pretty easy. Just download the app on iOS or Android and you’ll soon be on your way.
And whether you’re an aspiring trainer or not, check out a few of your local Pokestops and see what the fuss is about.