This is a nature blog, however, just this once I ask for indulgence. I’ll get to why this pertains to nature in a bit. If you own a smart phone, you probably already know about a new phenomenon called Pokémon Go. If you do not own one of these devices, or you do not “play” online games on your phone, or you live in a cave, you probably are as confused as I have been this last week.
With my family on vacation in the Mid-West, I was surrounded by people walking and talking while holding their cell phones out in front of themselves. Now, this is not totally unusual, that is a sight you can see every day, anywhere. But you may have noticed MORE people doing this lately.
This is because of the new game, Pokémon Go. Everywhere you go, they are there, 21 million walking cell-zombies paying attention only to what is on their small screens. What are they doing? Chasing, finding and capturing Pokémon characters placed in real-world locations using GPS.
They even talk a different language. “Hey I evolved my Rattata into a Raticate, but I keep seeing a zillion Rattatas. Oh, I see, I need to evolve them for XP!” Or this, “I did a twelve candy Pidgey evolution and got 1000 XP!”
What does it mean? If you spend a little time with a Pokémon user, you will learn some of the lingo. But, I am not writing this to help people learn about Pokémon, I really do have a point about how it can become a natural phenomenon.
To some of these people, this is a real competition, and they are risking their lives in search of these finds. Police departments and other authorities across the country, including the National Parks Association, are issuing warnings because public safety is at risk at times. A number of people have been injured while playing the game, due to failure to pay attention to their surroundings. Yesterday at the St. Louis Zoo, people were asked (in fun) to stop playing Pokémon before boarding the train!
How does all this pertain to nature? Now I will get to that. What I see is opportunities. Opportunities for people who generally stayed inside hooked on electronic devices to get out and interact with natural surroundings. Pokémon are found everywhere, including parks and outdoor recreational areas. I see opportunities for fitness. Pokémon requires walking, literally, to “hatch” the eggs of the creature they seek. And finally, I see opportunities for the public to learn more about issues related real plants and animals.
Studies are already being done to see if similar games can be built around the Pokémon concept to get people out there in search of real species. Imagine a similar game that helps people learn about preserving our pollinators. Can you see a game where people learn to identify bird species? And finally, imagine a game that sends people in search of endangered species where they learn about the habitats they require.
Engaging the public in learning more about issues related to real plants and animals and biodiversity really appeals to us naturalists. So before you condemn those 21 million cell-zombies for getting in your way and clogging up our natural areas, re-think it. What if 21 million people began caring for our world? Oh what a force that would be! It’s a start, and I will end this blog on that hopeful note. I feel a need for a walk. I have to hatch an egg.