Eight ways Pokemon Go has already affected meatspace
I'm gonna get right to it: I don't think we have any idea what the long-term influence of Pokemon Go will be. Anyone heralding the app as some revolutionary change to how our society functions is, to me, acting incredibly short-sighted.
But all that being said, there's no denying that almost overnight, Pokemon Go has become a very big deal, for one reason: we can easily document it in meatspace. When people talk about online fandoms, we mostly discuss popularity in terms of numbers, but with Pokemon Go we see bodies. Lots and lots of bodies! Herds of bodies! Mobs of them! Oh god, they're coming right for us!
That's why I want us to take a moment to acknowledge the ways Pokemon Go has already meaningfully reached out and touched the physical world. Some of it has been great; some of it... not so much. Either way it's too early to anticipate what the game's real impact will be. But man, are we living in a hell of a moment.
#8: There're already people offering a Pokemon Go chauffeur service
Name a human or economic condition and someone out there in the so-called "sharing" economy will be ready to so-called "disrupt" it. So it is that not even a week from release, we're already seeing drivers popping up on Craigslist and other sites offering to drive budding new Pokemon trainers around town, to hit up all the local Pokestops and gyms. You can charge a pretty decent hourly rate for it, too. I'd make an "Uber, but for ____" joke here but that's already literally what this is.
Some drivers are already trying to sweeten the deal by offering in-car perks, like wi-fi -- pretty important if you don't want to eat up your smartphone's data plan in a hurry.
#7: It's led police to at least one dead body
Wyoming teen Shayla Wiggins already has the Stand By Me boys beat for best summer story, in my opinion: while wandering along a local river in search of water-type Pokemon, Wiggins stumbled across an honest-to-goodness dead body floating in the water.
"It was pretty shocking," says Wiggins, a master of understatement. "I didn't really know what to do at first... I had to take a second look and I realized it was a body."
The identity of the corpse hasn't been released to the public, but an autopsy is reportedly underway in Fremont County, where the case has been turned over to the local sheriff. The sheriff's office believes the cause of death to be accidental drowning: "There is no evidence at this time that would indicate foul play."
Whatever the case, Wiggins's discovery is likely fortuitous for the authorities, since it sounds like she found the body not long after death. Not only will it help the autopsy paint a better picture of what happened, it means a swifter resolution for families who may've recently reported someone missing.
"I probably would have never went down there if it weren't for this game," says Wiggins. "But in a way, I'm thankful. I feel like I helped find his body. He could have been there for days."
#6: Criminals are using it to lure victims
Wiggins's story has a positive outcome, but early police reports suggest Pokemon Go is also ripe for exploitation. On July 10th, the O'Fallon, Missouri police department announced via its official Facebook page that two individuals had been arrested for a series of armed robberies in two adjacent counties, and that they had used the Pokemon Go app to commit the crime.
"The way we believe it was used is you can add a beacon to a Pokestop to lure more players," explained the police department. "Apparently they were using the app to locate [players] standing around in the middle of a parking lot or whatever other location they were in."
Based on this description, I'm guessing the robbers used the Lure item to make an out-of-the-way Pokestop seem more inviting, and then waited until someone wandered over to use it. Frightening, but also hard for the app to prevent from happening, just by dint of how it functions. Twitter user Robin also notes that the feature could pose a danger to unattended children:
Some of them had their parents. Some did not. I talked to one kid for a good twenty five minutes.— Robin (@caulkthewagon) July 10, 2016
There's a sense of camaraderie that is built up around this game. The kid I just played with definitely lost his stranger danger sense.— Robin (@caulkthewagon) July 10, 2016
#5: It's already gotten someone fired (but not for the reason you might expect)
Australian Sonny Truyen did not take kindly to the lack of Pokemon capturing opportunities in Singapore, where the game has not yet released -- and where Truyen had come for work, as vice president of digital marketing for real estate company 99.co. He complained on social media, as one does, and in the process called Singapore "a fucking shit country" -- perhaps an excessive outburst for not being able to stick fictional animals into equally fictional balls there. Locals who witnessed the remarks (and his following comments) found them in poor taste as well, and complained to his employer. Truyen was out of a job less than a day later.
On the one hand, it's true that social media responses to incidents like these can be over-the-top and disproportionately damaging. The recent campaign to get ex-Nintendo rep Alison Rapp fired for remarks made years ago in a college paper is a perfect example. On the other hand, Truyen doubled down on his statements when criticized, saying he had come to Singapore to work "because of the lack of local talent" and that if he were to leave, "the [country's] average IQ [will] fall." So you can sort of understand why 99.co wouldn't want a guy like that as the public face of the company, whether or not he originally lost his shit over a Pokemon app.
#4 It's breaking down social barriers (and highlighting systemic prejudices)
This one is purely anecdotal, but it's too good not to share. Redditor SlothOfDoom was out late at night looking for Pokemon on his phone, when he heard someone calling out to him from the darkness. Following the voice, he met "two sketchy looking dudes" sitting on a bench, who pointed him toward a blue truck where they'd caught an Onix earlier.
So I wander over by the truck and sure enough there's a fucking [Onix] there. Awesome. So I end up chatting with the guys for a bit, told em where I got my [Eevee], they convinced me to join red team when I hit level five so we could "lock shit down" in the neighbourhood.
Then the cop shows up.
Yeah, so it turns out two twentysomething black dudes and a forty year old white guy chilling in the park at 3am looks strange. It took a bit of talking to convince the cop we weren't doing a drug deal, and a bit longer to explain the game. Then the cop downloaded the fucking game on his phone and asked us how to get started.
On the one hand, this is extremely heartwarming. On the other hand, it's depressing as hell that the cop's immediate assumption was that a pair of young black men were up to no good. In general, geocaching games like Pokemon Go are unfortunately a lot safer for white people than many minorities, where even slightly unusual behavior can immediately be deemed suspicious or even threatening. But at least in this case, the encounter had a happy ending.
#3: People are rediscovering local landmarks
One of the simplest pleasures of Pokemon Go -- and Ingress, the game which preceded it -- is that it has the potential to turn your neighborhood into a marvelous walking tour of the local sights. In practice, it can end up a bit sillier than that: my very first Pokestop turned out to be a fountain which doesn't physically exist anymore, and several of the Pokestops in my neighborhood are chain restaurants, which detracts from the whole "local flavor" the landmarks system is supposed to convey. We've also heard stories of players wandering into police stations, courthouses, and cemeteries without a real awareness of their surroundings, potentially disrupting the activities which are supposed to take place there.
Still, people are finding really cool things out on their walks as well, like pieces of public art they never noticed before, or memorial plaques for important local history. Another of the Pokestops in my area marks a tree that's apparently over a thousand years old! Twitter user Minovsky recounts a recent adventure they had trying to reach a nearby Pokemon gym:
My nearest Pokemon Gym is right through this overgrown thicket. It's....oh....ohhhh... pic.twitter.com/0u6lJurY4U— Minovsky (@MinovskyArticle) July 7, 2016
#2: It might just influence the next season of Black Mirror
Viewers have noted a striking similarity between Pokemon Go's real-world pervasiveness and a second season episode of Black Mirror, a British television show which also accurately predicted a prime minister would do something unseemly with a pig. Someone outright asked the show's creator, Charlie Brooker, what the likelihood was that Pokemon Go would feature in an upcoming episode, to which Brooker responded that said odds were "shortening by the hour."
Even if Black Mirror ultimately passes on a dark "what if" rendition of the app, you can bet that Pokemon Go is going to pop up in a lot of other television shows in the next few months. I can't imagine Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, for instance, passing on the opportunity to make Ice T patiently explain Pokemon jargon to his normie colleagues.
#1: It's sending people to church (literally)
Because of the aforementioned landmark system, which draws not only upon Google Maps but player contributions in Ingress, a lot of Pokestops and gyms have ended up being public buildings, museums, and yes, churches. Lots and lots of churches.
Now, it bears repeating that this is just a quirk of how Ingress/Pokemon Go functions, not some hidden agenda from the developers. But I know some religious friends who are entertained by the prospect of church attendance going up as a result of this game. On the other hand, if you happen to reside in a building that used to be a church, but now serves as a private residence, the public/private boundary can get a bit fraught.
Undeniably, though, the best aspect of Pokemon sending people to church is that it's turned the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (above) in Topeka, Kansas, into a Pokemon gym defended by a Clefairy named LoveIsLove. The church has fought back, calling Clefairy a "sodomite" and waging war against this occupation with... uh, a Jigglypuff.
The church should watch out, though: Nintendo is notably litigious about unauthorized use of its branding and characters, and probably won't appreciate a hateful organization putting homophobic slurs into a Pokemon's mouth.
And while we're still here, a couple honorable mentions for things Pokemon Go is not doing:
#A: It hasn't caused a major traffic accident (yet)
Numerous law enforcement agencies have urged players to exercise caution when using the app, for some obvious reasons. People have gotten injured while playing it, with scuffs and bruises well accounted for in reputable news publications. And we have seen stories of minor car accidents resulting from the game. One thing Pokemon Go has not done, however, is cause a multi-car pileup on a freeway somewhere, despite what you may have read.
The most common rendition of this story is that a Massachusetts man named Lamar Hickson caused a series of traffic collisions after parking in the middle of a freeway to catch a Pikachu. Apart from the absurdity of the premise -- there are way more Pokestops along surface streets than highways or freeways, because of the game's landmark system -- the story originates from a known fake news site, and uses an unrelated photo from a 2014 traffic accident in Colorado.
This isn't to say there won't at some point be a significant accident as a result of this (or another) game, but that's exactly why a lot of governing bodies already have laws on the books regarding phone use on the road. Pokemon Go is merely the buzzword du jour -- we've heard stories of drivers crashing while texting or on a call for decades now, and as more games incorporate pervasive systems like Go, we're going to hear reports of people being irresponsible with them as well. But the Lamar Hickson story, you can be assured, is false.
Incidentally, this is the correct way to catch Pokemon while driving: stop first.
#B: It's not affecting the real estate market (yet)
You may have seen a screenshot of a housing listing in British Columbia advertising a property's proximity to Pokestops and gyms. Some have speculated that Pokemon Go might actually affect a house or commercial space's value, and while there might as yet be some merit to that -- there's at least one person on Craigslist trying to advertise Pokestop proximity for an apartment rental right now -- so far, it's only speculation. And that housing ad? If it ever actually advertised the number of nearby Pokemon Go landmarks, it doesn't now.
Conversely, I have seen an animal shelter encourage players to walk one of the shelter's dogs while traversing the neighborhood. So there is certainly room here for businesses and non-profits to turn their virtual location into a meatspace asset in the short term, even if the game doesn't affect long-term real estate value. And hey, dogs! They're almost real-life Pokemon anyway.
Top image source: The Daily Dot.