It was 1990 and young Satoshi Tajiri had a dream: One day people of all ages would rush (willy nilly, if possible) around the world to capture, train and trade 151 strange and mildly disturbing creatures, with one ultimate goal – to be crowned a Pokémon Master.
On February 27, 1996 that dream became reality as Pokémon came to the Nintendo Game Boy system. Its popularity grew slowly but steadily; then a little faster but steadily; then it burst forth in a tsunami-like frenzy, captivating children and baffling parents on every continent (yes, even Antarctica … we checked).
The game was everywhere you looked. It was on The Simpsons. It was in an Austin Powers movie. Some analysts believe it influenced the 2000 Presidential elections (although that does seem like a bit of a stretch, Mr. Gore).
Over the next decades Pokémon settled in as a constant presence, no longer the hot new thing but still there when it was needed – like the liverwurst you keep in the fridge for Pop Pop’s visits.
Sure, it had been successful. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more successful undertaking in the computer age. Still, something was missing from Satoshi’s dream. People played the game and collected the cards, but they were doing it all in a stationary manner. The running around part was sadly lacking.
Until last week, that is.
Just days ago the universe was introduced to Pokémon GO. The universe loved it at first sight. The Pokémon craze is not only back, but hotter than ever.Advances in technology have spurred the resurgence. The new iteration allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual Pokémon characters who appear throughout the real world. If you find yourself confronted by people excitedly proclaiming words like Zubat, Kakuna, Magmar or Butterfree – don’t panic – they have spotted one of these precious characters in your vicinity.Of course, those creatures are only there in the alternate reality that GPS and the camera of compatible devices make possible.So, is all this running around a good thing or a bad thing? Let’s look at the question rationally:**Good thing:** In the face of what many health professionals have termed an “obesity epidemic,” the game has coaxed a largely sedentary group (that is, teens and 20-something game players) into an enormous upswing in the [health benefits to be derived from walking](https://www.healthcentral.com/obesity/c/59238/131882/walking-make-time).
_ Credit: Twitter (@elimyelizamillz)_
Bad thing: Accidents will happen to gamers walking briskly with heads buried in their cell phones. Reports are rampant of incidents of tripping, falling and even getting badly sunburned due to an overabundance of micro-concentration, or lack of macro-concentration – however you choose to look at it.
Good thing: Outside air is better than inside air. A 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution concluded that trees remove substantial amounts of pollution and can produce substantial health benefits – with most of the health values derived from urban trees. So Pokémon GO monster hunting is literally a breath of fresh air.
Bad thing: Unthinking (or thoughtless, if you prefer) Pokémon GO players are unceremoniously stomping into places that require a more gentle and respectful footstep. Places like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. For some reason, someone has put three “PokéStops” in the museum. Officials there are trying to get the museum “excluded from the game.” Military bases, the 911 memorial, and (for completely different inappropriate reasons) an East Coast strip club have also been among the less-than-ideal spots where the creatures have been found. (Side note: Just who chooses these PokéStops seems to be a mystery. Web searches for that information generally yield this cryptic answer: “The game.”)
Good thing: Travel is broadening – even travel within your own neck of the woods. Many Pokéstops include landmarks and historical markers, including some obscure ones you never even knew about in your own neighborhood. Knowledge is not only power, but studies show that education is a factor in better overall health. Also, learning new things may be helpful in staving off dementia.
_ Credit: Twitter (@jasonjarmoosh)_
Bad thing: Trespassers will be prosecuted (or worse, shot). Although Pokéspots are most often landmarks like historical buildings or murals where players collect items they need to catch – some are actually near or on private property or someone’s home. Naturally, the copious Pokémon GO “terms of service” advise players not to violate laws “including but not limited to the laws of trespass,” but that’s something that just might get lost in the heat of pursuit.
_ Credit: Twitter (@CathThemAll)_
Good thing: It’s re-establishing community. Technology has been well known as an isolating influence. From Twitter to Facebook to online dating, a person could go days or weeks without interacting with another human in 3D, real-world, flesh-and-bone form. Pokémon GO compels like-minded people to gather in the same physical locations at the same time for the same purpose. They actually talk and interact. Imagine that.
_ Credit: Twitter (@CptNaomi)_
Bad thing: The set-up. Whenever people gather together for a common purpose, some people will use that for their own nefarious purposes. A person with bad intent can add a “lure” to Pokéspots that makes it more likely that an unsuspecting player will show up near them. In St. Louis, four resourceful teens placed a lure on a secluded Pokéspot in order to get players to approach – then robbed them at gunpoint.
Good thing: Even in the short time the game has been out, mental health professionals are hearing reports that it’s motivating some people with depression to get out of bed and become involved in the world again. Walking and experiencing nature is generally thought to benefit most people’s mental health. A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a small group of people who walked around in nature for 90 minutes showed a reduction in negative thinking.
_ Credit: Twitter (@uglycatlady)_
_ Credit: Twitter (@38VioletQueen)_
Bad thing: Overdoing it syndrome. Enthusiasm can be a great thing – when channeled effectively. Just as you don’t run a marathon after ten years as a couch potato and desk jockey, you must resist the urge to hunt in Pokémon GO with enthusiasm beyond your physical capability. Pokémon passion has led to injuries of varying degrees. A Reddit user posted that he fell down a ditch, fracturing the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot – 6 to 8 weeks for recovery. Sore legs, sprained ankles, stiff necks – emergency rooms are bracing for the next wave.
Good thing: This last “good” thing may depend on whether you are an employer or an employee. Ever since the dawn of the Internet, workers have been trying to convince their bosses that a “break in the action” from the laser-like focus they bring to their work is greatly beneficial to their overall production. Maybe a Twitter peek, or an NCAA basketball bracket break – it’s all good, right? Well, Pokémon GO is just like that (except with a little time away from the office, but right back before you know it). If you buy the premise, we believe the conclusion is valid.
Bad thing: The Pokémon theme song. Ok, that’s subjective – but, really. Come on. Right?
So what do you think? Good thing or bad thing? We suspect that opinions may vary by participation in the game, itself – or by generation. But our advice is to be gentle with your criticism. After all, who knows when your childhood obsession will make a comeback as the next big thing in the digital universe?
Jack wrote for HealthCentral as an editor on vision care, skin care, and mental health.