Maybe you’re already out chasing Charmanders and Pikachus. Maybe you’ve been tutting at the latest craze that keeps people glued to their smart phones. Whether you’re a lover or a hater, you’d have to be living under a rock to avoid hearing about Pokemon Go.
Like the mean mom I’ve so often been called, I waited until school finished for the summer before I would download the app for my 9 year old son. But now I admit it, I’ve succumbed. Yes, the game has done what I hoped it would, help me drag my son out of the house and give him a reason to not complain too much when I take him to places I like to go. “I hear Tate Modern has some poke stops and rare Pokémon…” I say. I have no idea what this means (at first), but it seems to work and we also managed to catch the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition. But I have to admit, I’ve played a little even when he’s not with me. It’s pretty fun.
Local public services around the world have also cottoned on to the craze. Libraries are encouraging Pokémon ‘trainers’ to visit – Aberdeenshire libraries say people who haven’t been to the library since they were kids are coming in and joining up.
Doncaster Council was one of the first UK councils to really get on board and hosted a Pokémon Picnic with even Chief Executive Jo Miller said she was at it:
— Doncaster Council (@MyDoncaster) July 15, 2016
Some Doncaster players also recently foiled a burglary on an industrial estate, spotting the criminals they called 999. Even the South Yorkshire Police agree, ya gotta catch ’em all.
The city of Basel in Switzerland has already created a Pokemon theme tourism campaign which is kind of marvellous and created a video which should appeal to any of you Pokemon haters out there.
If you’re not familiar with it, Pokémon Go is a location based game. You have to be physically near a particular area – Pokestops or gyms – to get virtual supplies for the game or battle for glory. The virtual locations are often sited at places of historical or cultural interest – near my house they’re located at public sculptures, memorials, blue plaque sites, a nature reserve, local churches, libraries, etc. You have to physically move to get to these places. Pokemon can be anywhere, but they seem to be clustered around these areas, too. To hatch Pokemon eggs, you have to walk and walk and walk. Eggs hatch after your phone’s GPS has registered that you’ve walked 2, 5 or 10 kilometres.
While it’s basically just a virtual treasure hunt, it takes you around places of interest, many of which are community assets and monuments, museums and parks apparently do tend to host the more rare Pokemon.
As long as you remember to look up from your phone while you’re walking, Pokémon Go does offer some real health benefits. Just getting out and walking often in greener spaces has tremendous physical and mental health benefits. My phone has a pedometer on it, and I’ve noticed I’ve gone from around 6,000 steps or fewer on an office based working day to almost twice that just from taking lunch in a park or taking an only slightly longer walking route that has more Pokéstops and on days when we’re actively hunting Pokémon it’s even more.
Local government and location based games
Pokémon Go just requires you to get somewhere and swipe or tap something on your screen, but imagine a game with only a slightly more pro-social element to it. Or imagine using Pokémon Go for other things, like ward walks with your councillor. I don’t know how much longer this game will be around (a while yet…) but there will be other games and we should be alert to the possibilities and benefits. What is your council doing?