Pokemon GO gets us outside, but then what?

Is there something wrong with this picture? (Screenshot of Pokemon GO video)

Is there something wrong with this picture? (Screenshot of Pokemon GO video)

I’m trying hard not to be an old fuddy-duddy, so please help me out. I want to hear from you about Pokemon GO (and other technology that gets people outdoors, but mostly PG). It’s only been around since Thursday, but the sensation seems to be sweeping the nation (or the world?), perhaps at a time when we could all use some positive distraction. It is summer, after all… And Pokemon GO does get people outside… kind of. Check out the official video:



I gotta admit, I was kind of appalled when I watched it. The players are outside, even in nature, but they’re glued to their phones. They smile at each other in passing, but they’re still on their own. But I’m sort of old-school when it comes to nature. I think that to best experience nature’s restorative benefits, you can’t be hooked up to technology. You have to unplug to recharge. There is some research that affirms this, but right now we’re talking about Pokemon.

My friend and I were sitting outside a café on a lovely morning last weekend when we spotted a young couple walking down the sidewalk, each staring at their individual phones. Then we saw another couple doing it and tried hard not to resort to the usual tut-tutting that we thought was reserved for our grandparents: “Kids these days, no one talks to each other, they’re all obsessed with their own devices,” etc. Then yesterday a Twitter friend said she’d gone down the Pokemon GO rabbithole and I looked it up and – bingo! Those kids were playing the game! So, they were outside (good!), they were sort of interacting with each other (good…), playing a game sort of with each other (good…)… but glued to a tiny screen, immersed in a fake reality, chasing a cartoon character, not interacting with anyone around them—not even the other couple that was doing the same thing. Hmmmmm…..

I try to be open to–and even embrace–new technology. I love apps that help me identify trees and butterflies, or that help me not get lost when I’m on a hike, or that connect me with other nature- and garden-lovers. I’m very excited about this invention that provides positive distraction to children before they go into surgery. I’m pretty sure that gazing at a nature view would not immerse these kids enough at that stressful moment.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 3.25.15 PM

I heard this piece on Morning Edition (“Pokemon Go: The Live Video Game Everyone Seems To Be Playing“) and this snippet brought up some interesting points:

Laura SYDELL: The western edge of Golden Gate Park is amazingly beautiful. There’s a view of the Pacific Ocean, a historic beach LA restaurant with a view of the water. Today, there are dozens of people that are in the restaurant parking lot. And they could [sic] care less about the ocean. They’re looking down at their smartphones. Danielle Sheridon says she’s searching for fictional monsters called Pokemon.

Dean Speer, 28-year-old personal trainer says Pokemon Go takes you places. You can’t play it sitting down. And the search reveals more of the world, like the entrance to a trail you’ve never noticed.

SPEER: I had walked by the entrance many times, never really realized it was an entrance. But then you’re like, wait, that’s a trail. And then you walk back there and suddenly there’s creeks and trees. And I’m like, oh, there’s more of this than just Golden Gate Park.

But, “judge not lest ye be judged,” or at least “see for yourself,” so today I reluctantly downloaded the app. And – surprise! – the site is so busy that I haven’t been able to try the game yet. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, what do you think? Is Pokemon GO fantastic, good, bad, evil…inevitable…all of the above? Leave a comment here, or join our conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In. We’ve been getting some great comments, click on “comments” below to read up.

Screen shot from the video. Is he sort of looking at the fountain…?


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10 Responses to “Pokemon GO gets us outside, but then what?”

  1. Martha Gatewood says:

    I play it with my teenager and it gives us time together. When we set a lite on the library’s steps people in the neighborhood gather and socialize. I’ve met new people and also I am learning the names of local spots of interest. And it can be too consuming but it has its benefits.

  2. Karthikeyan says:

    I would like to appreciate all the technology if it can make benefits on human life, especially if it can make any kind of nature connections in their lives. Still, I have a confusion that how much it can make sincere connections with plants. Should have some options to share about their observations in the surroundings and what they found interesting things in a particular spot like that. It will help the participant to listen to Nature and also will help the to know their surroundings. This is what I thought while reading this article. Thanks

  3. I think that Pokemon GO is a great example of an “and” (technology AND nature) solution. It seems that the “or” (technology OR nature) solution wasn’t getting many people outside as most folks seem to lean towards technology if a choice needs to be made. I don’t view it as relaxation (where body-mid-spirit are all in it together), but as fun and exercise combined. I have a young adult son who has actually been out in the southern summer heat (which he hates), walking 5 – 10 miles/day (this is closer to his monthly movement prior to this game) and who otherwise would have engaged in purely indoor technology. I believe it’s more of a choice between sofa-potato technology or move-the-body technology … I vote for the latter.

  4. Naomi Sachs says:

    This from a TLN member who is blind and lives in the Bay Area in California: “…it’s putting an entirely new spin on blind mobility on the sidewalk – especially around my office and walk through town as I’m within the SOMA district – a hotbed of millennial tech culture. In fact, a “gem” site is within 10 feet of the office front door. I want to develop a contrarian game where blind folk get points for caning Pokemon Go gamers lost in their augmented world.”

  5. randy says:

    Everybody sits on their asses playing CandyCrush for 5 years and no one bats an eye, but a game comes out encouraging people to get out and explore their worlds and everyone loses their minds… (only semi snarki)

  6. Naomi Sachs says:

    Comment from a TLN member on FB: “Oh that’s a very interesting post. I agree with you that using technology to help people engage with the outside is an excellent thing – so noticing things they hadn’t spotted before, thinking about the landscape in a different way, identifying features etc. However it seems like this is a game where the environment you’re in doesn’t matter in itself. So you end up with this situation for example https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/07/12/holocaust-museum-to-visitors-please-stop-catching-pokemon-here/

  7. Naomi Sachs says:

    Comment from another Linked In member: “Players are also reporting that their mental health is improving by playing Pokémon GO. For the past year we’ve been testing a video game for mental health. Part of our experience includes an augmented reality game, similar to Pokemon Go, that encourages players to go for a walk. We have been seeing similar player reaction from patients in our clinic and military deployments.”

  8. Naomi Sachs says:

    Comment from a Linked In and TLN member who works at the National Park Service: “So far I see mostly positive benefits. Players are rewarded for time spent walking outdoors, and “level up” up by hatching eggs that incubate based on distance walked. There are reports of people happily logging several miles of walks in parks enjoying time with friends. This is augmented reality rather than virtual reality. The video short doesn’t capture the social aspect of this game that has throngs of young people socializing AND walking outdoors in nature.”

  9. I downloaded it the other day, intending to play this with my 22-year-old son who is home for the summer from college. He grew up with Pokemon, so for him, it’s a kind of throwback fun. I can’t imagine it taking the place of my neighborhood walks, my treks outdoors to unwind, or my use of nature to find balance…BUT, I think it could probably be a good thing to get people outside. Once outside, who knows what could happen? Discover a park you didn’t know was there, run into neighbors you haven’t met, spend some time with your kid — I haven’t played it yet, so I’ll let you know what I think afterwards!

    • Naomi Sachs says:

      Can’t wait to hear what you think! I have been playing since yesterday and it’s…kind of addictive. But it’s also really hot out and I’m trying to stay safe. A waitress today told us that Wolf Pen Creek Park, which she lives next to, is now THE happening spot in College Station, TX (probably the first time in a long time). Only problem is, kids are playing at all hours and it’s keeping her awake 😉