Getting Outside with PokémonGo

By: Danny Woolums
Bluegrass Greensource
Environmental Educator

For many young adults like myself, PokémonGo has been the realization of a dream we’ve had since we were children. Becoming a Pokémon trainer and catching all 150 of the magical creatures excited me and my brother while we battled it out on our GameBoys. Almost 2 decades later, I get a text from my brother asking when are we going to meet up so he can show me all of his supposedly more powerful Pokémon.

Beyond the nostalgia that the app brings me, I have found it a truly rewarding experience. On a more professional note, as an environmental educator, I am pleased and interested in how this game invites individuals of all ages, including those who aren’t nature-inclined, to get outside and engage with their local environment in the quest to catch them all.

If you aren’t already familiar with this phenomenon sweeping the world, I recommend reading this article from USA Today. By interfacing with real world through Google, integrating local landmarks, and then using the camera on your phone, Niantic has engaged users with the world around them in a way they’ve never before experienced.

PokémonGo has been a fantastic tool of getting people outside and talking to one another. Perhaps you’ve driven past a city park and seen a far higher number of people congregated together anxiously staring at their phones followed by a moment of shared joy. I have walked by so many people who I make eye contact with, laugh, and then continue walking because we’ve just exchanged a knowing look that says we’re all on the hunt for a nearby Pikachu.

PokémonGo is not without its naysayers. Some may argue, how does this interface encourage social interaction and engagement with the local environment, when you’re staring at your phone? I would only point them towards several individuals and organizations who are harnessing the power of this global phenomenon to educate and do good work for the earth. There’s the guy from Reddit, who decided to also pick up litter in the parks he was walking in, and encouraged other users to do the same. That post has more than 5,000 views on the Reddit platform. Biologists are using the game as a research tool, and are encouraging users to submit upload photos of real animals they find to Twitter using the hashtag #pokeblitz, so that the online scientific community can identify wildlife the game players didn’t previously have knowledge about.

Above all, I think about all of the people who are outside despite the weather, ignoring their televisions, not blasting the A/C, not turning on the lights, and the people just really enjoying playing outside for the first time in years. We can lament and condemn all we want about what it means for us as a society that it takes a game to get us outside, and I’d be more than happy to engage in that conversation, but right now I see that there’s a bulbasaur nearby and I am about to go outside, enjoy some sun, and catch it. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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