If my 7-year-old self told my 23-year-old self that my old Pokémon cards shoved in a junk drawer would virtually appear in real life through a mobile phone app … I would tell my 7-year-old self to stop talking nonsense.
But here I am, a 23-year-old adult, spending an entire weekend traipsing 10 miles all over downtown Grand Rapids searching for Squirtles and Jigglypuffs on an app called Pokémon Go.
And I’m not ashamed.
The game, released July 6, became a nearly overnight sensation and has just about surpassed Twitter in daily active users.
Here’s how to play it in a paragraph: Your mission is to catch Pokémon at any given moment while on the go (hence the name). As you collect Pokémon, you gain levels that allow you to catch rare Pokémon. Different locations allow the Pokémon trainer to go to a “gym” and use your Pokémon to battle other trainers’ Pokémon. Also, within the app you can receive eggs from Pokéstops that will turn into Pokémon when they hatch. In order to hatch them, you must walk or be moving around. The app will tell you to walk 2 km, 5 km, or 10 km depending on what kind of egg you receive. This aspect of the game may have partially led to my 10-mile excursion.
After Sunday brunch, my boyfriend and I changed into our Pokémon training gear, better known as workout clothes, and ventured to Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids, where we saw several people clustered in certain areas with their eyes glued to their mobile phones, catching Pokémon.
Say goodbye to couch potatoes
The object of the game is to capture Pokémon, but before you know it, the game captures you. Seven hours, 10 miles, and 250 Pokémon later, I asked myself, “Where did the day go?”
I witnessed strangers of all ages, all different backgrounds and races coming together in their community, sitting side by side, conversing outdoors. People who may normally sit solo in a lounge chair playing their Xbox in a dark, air-conditioned room now milled about outdoors, talking with others. It was a refreshing sight to see.
Kimberly DeLaFuente, MA, ACSM-PD, a community exercise educator for Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, tended to agree.
“I think it’s great,” DeLaFuente said. “It causes a distraction and people don’t perceive it as exercise.”
The social aspect is huge.
“People struggle with becoming active when going at it alone, but with this, there is that social piece that makes it more interesting and allows you to meet new people,” DeLaFuente said.
She also finds that the game is a great way for people to get outside and see their city.
“I read that there are different Pokémon in different cities,” she said. “So at some point, that might even encourage people to travel.”
Caution: Look up before you trip up
Although this game brings a new outlook to the couch-potato stereotype we all know, we have to be smart about it, too. There have been reports across the nation about other gamers walking into poles, falling into ditches, or (please don’t do this) driving while playing.
Jennifer Hoekstra, program coordinator of Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s Injury Prevention Program, explained that although this is a great game to keep people active, we still need to remember to be aware of our surroundings.
“We really should be addressing the facts of just basic pedestrian safety and tie that back to the game,” Hoekstra said. “The fact that you truly do need to have your eyes on the phone to succeed in the game can cause you to become a petextrian, which is what we call people who text and walk. When your face is down in your electronics, you miss key signals that will keep you safe.”
Not to name names, but my partner in Pokémon catching may or may not have run into a sign while searching for a rare Dratini near the Grand River. Look up before you trip up, fellow trainers.
Another important aspect Hoekstra mentioned to remain safe when playing the game is to let friends, family and parents know your location.
“It is important kids are not putting themselves in unsafe environments,” Hoekstra said. “Don’t go into strangers’ yards, don’t go into unknown buildings, make sure to stay where it is well lit and places you are visible to others.”
Bottom line is that you never know. Whether you are a child, a teenager, or an adult, one should never carry the mindset of invincibility, even when playing a video game. Being aware of your surroundings can never do any harm.
“It is super fun and, yes, I do approve of this game, but there has to be set ideas about safety that takes precedence over catching a Pokémon,” Hoekstra said.
Now that you’re a wiser (and hopefully, safer) Pokémon trainer, I’ve done my duty and I’m off to find Pikachu.
P.S. If you find yourself in a Walmart parking lot, look for Snorlax taking a nap next to the cart return.