For most people, the news that Wellesley’s youth are increasingly wandering the streets, faces buried in their smartphones doesn’t seem revolutionary. However, the advent of new app sensation Pokemon GO, released several days ago, has caused a sudden shift in the behavioral patterns of millennials in Wellesley and beyond.
For the unacquainted, Pokemon GO is the latest installment in the internationally popular Pokemon series of video games, begun in 1996 by Japanese company Nintendo. The original games allowed players to travel several fictional continents, capturing numerous Pokemon creatures and using the critters’ powers to defeat assorted antagonists in battle. Pokemon GO includes similar features, such as the original lineup of Pokemon creatures (Pikachu, Squirtle, etc.) available for capture, but instead of finding Pokemon in a digital world, players must seek them in real world locations, with their smartphones guiding the way.
The impact of the app has been visible all over Wellesley in the last few days, as another part of the game is the existence of specific areas, PokeStops and Gyms, that players can access to acquire helpful items or send their strongest Pokemon into battle. These locations are usually notable buildings, monuments or places, and in Wellesley that means Town Hall, the Sprague Memorial Clock Tower, Morses Pond, the Davis Museum and even the spot at Wellesley College where the famed Sleepwalker statue once stood. Where such structures exist, clusters of teenagers with phones in hand are likely to be close at hand.
The pitfalls associated with Pokemon GO are manifold, both safety-related, as people wandering around intently focused on their phones can easily run into trouble, and societally, as most parents would agree that the less time kids spend on their phones, the better. The loading screen of the app features a prominent warning urging players not to neglect their surroundings, but drivers must also be aware that, at least as long as the app sustains its current wild popularity (Pokemon GO currently commands the top spot on the App Store’s list of free apps,) extra caution should be taken in and around town center.
The fear that the app will drive kids even further into their phones is legitimate but the game is also a prime avenue for social interaction. In order to progress, players must congregate at the PokeSpots and Gyms, and so far, such locales have been consistently populated, which make them great places to meet people who clearly have something in common.
The public health benefits of the app could also have a positive impact on generally sedentary video game players. The game periodically rewards players with Pokemon eggs, and the only way to release the Pokemon inside is by walking, either 2, 5, or 10 kilometers depending on the egg. Pokemon GO is forcing people to walk around outside, and while this does put them at risk for bodily harm if they don’t take proper care, attentive players should have no problem avoiding catastrophe, and might even improve their cardiovascular health in the process.
Pokemon GO is chronically glitchy, battery-consuming, and continues to be confusing even for people who downloaded the app the second it debuted. However, Pokemon GO is having a visible effect on Wellesley, and if the game proves to have staying power, people may have to get used to watching out for teenagers even more clueless of their surroundings than usual.