How DARE You Have Fun!

Here’s something new: An innocuous game app goes viral and takes the mobile world by storm, and overnight, scores of embittered Andy Rooney impersonators scramble to their keyboards to decry it as a frivolous and irritating distraction.

Okay, maybe that’s not so new. For every person who ever downloaded Angry Birds or Candy Crush, there are ten who feel it is their personal obligation to remind them that while they were wasting time knocking down piggy fortresses, the world is full of very real problems, like determining if it was a mistake to pull David Ortiz from the 2016 MLB All-Star game early.

The latest craze is Pokemon Go, a massively multiplayer online game that uses your smartphone’s camera and location/telemetry sensors to engage players in “augmented reality” gameplay. Unlike passive apps like Angry Birds or Minecraft, which encourage people to utterly disengage from their surroundings for hours, Pokemon Go actually requires that you get off your ass and move in Meatspace. As in, go outside and visit the park, or the jogging trail, or an art installation. You want to level-up that character you collected? Okay, start walking. See you in 10 kilometers. It’s a pretty brilliant concept, actually, not too far removed from GeoCaching, or scavenger hunts of yore. Except now, there’s a high-tech component, and that makes it low-hanging fruit for twenty-first century luddites and “seriouser-than-thou” types. Already, the usual knee-jerk haters are rattling around in their Oscar-the-Grouch garbage cans, ready to rain down indignation on everyone who has the audacity to use their mobile for anything besides flaunting their star spangled patriotism on social media every ten minutes. Appointing themselves the sole arbiters of good taste and maturity, they dish up wave after wave of “harrumphs” and derisive comments about “idiots walking around staring at their phones”, and pseudo-macho proclamations of intent to cause mischief for “anyone I see doing this.”

Put aside the irony of flocking to social media to snark about how others entertain themselves, and consider the epidemic of having one’s cake and eating it too that is on display here. When Nintendo introduced the Wii, a video game console that engages more than your thumbs, the cynics scoffed, “if you want to play tennis, why not actually go play tennis?” One wonders how many of those critics have ever actually swung a real tennis racket themselves, or paid dues to access an actual tennis court? We lament a generation of kids growing up with no respect or affinity for public spaces, and then turn around and shit all over an idea that fosters that respect even in the slightest because… why, exactly?? Because some people choose to embellish the experience with digital novelty? Because kids today can’t just breathe in the majesty of nature without enhancing the experience with a screen?

Do us a favor, Mr. Thoreau, and climb down off your purity soapbox before you fall through it. If that’s your attitude, I have to wonder why you need art in your museums, or books in your libraries. Shouldn’t it be enough just to appreciate the architecture of the place without burying your nose in a novel while you’re there?? Sorry I’m having fun in a way that displeases you; next time, I’ll be sure to bring my yoga mat or my copy of Dostoevsky.

As with any new development in mobile tech, there are still bugs to be worked out and valid concerns to be acknowledged. Is this game an addictive and distracting time-suck? Probably. Are there concerns about the appropriateness of collecting Pokeballs and Charmander Candies at the Holocaust Museum? Of course. Is some douche going to walk into traffic or worse —cause a traffic accident because he saw a Raichu he absolutely had to capture? Most likely. But these are the exceptions, not the rule, and anyway, that’s just nature’s way of chlorinating the gene pool, isn’t it?

Personally, I see a lot of potential for social network-enabled augmented reality apps. The next time you’re at major outdoor event, or shopping center, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to whip out your phone and use the camera, gyros, compass, and GPS to overlay information about your surroundings on live video of your surroundings? Where’d I park? Where’s the nearest shitter? Or water fountain? Or first aid? This sort of thing would’ve been nice to have at AwesomeCon, instead of the crappy little “Guidebook” map and panelist schedule they published.

Don’t worry. We’re not quite to the point of seeing ads for “Buy & Large” cupcakes in a cup slathered on everything via projected HUDs, so maybe we can put down the pitchforks and evolve a little, hmm?