Every media outlet has been jumping on the explosively popular Pokémon Go app to talk about how it may-or-may-not be relevant for this-or-that.
A common narrative is how it is a ‘game changer’ for getting those basement dwelling teens out in some good ol’ sun. Walking, exercise, social interaction! Perfect!
The joys of Pokémon Go: exercise, the outdoors and ‘full-on escapism’ https://t.co/G01DwIB0Hn
— The Guardian (@guardian) July 12, 2016
On the face of it, that makes sense. There is lots of evidence for the benefits of spending time outdoors. Obesity remains a critical issue, especially here in the UK.
However, beneath this I find an unsettling dismissiveness towards video games — and for those who are not able to head outside and enjoy Pokémon Go. Video games as a medium provide a wonderful, immersive form of entertainment that are too readily derided because they do not tick enough boxes.
Convention, tradition and acceptance
It is both frustrating, but completely understandable, that video games are not viewed positively until they’re presented in terms in which the general public can relate to. For example, ‘E-sports’ are becoming increasingly acceptable. Recently, there was coverage of EVO — the world’s largest fighting games tournament — on ESPN, a major sporting network in the US. With competitive gaming, the benefits and skills involved are distinct and easy to understand; memory, reflex, ambition, achievement.
Likewise, Pokémon Go has become another string to mainstream gaming’s bow. With the caveat of ‘it gets kids outdoors’, it’s more acceptable than it’s predecessors. I would argue that there has always been a lot to praise about video games that often goes unsung.
Video games as a positive emotional and creative experience
There are many ‘soft’ skills to be gained from video games. These are benefits gained that we can’t necessarily quantify. Friendships, new perspectives and emotional understanding, for example.
RPGs (Role Playing Games) have so much to offer in creativity, spirit and vision. Unlike competitive games, RPGs are largely focussed on narrative. It’s true that their benefits are difficult to quantify, but for me, their benefits are innumerable.
The cute and inspiring world of Zelda; the emotional journey of Final Fantasy; the style-heavy psychological romp Persona. Personally, as a creative, I find all of these titles incredibly inspiring. Not just in a literal sense, but also in an emotional sense. Just as you would snuggle up to a good book and get lost in another universe, video games offer much the same experience. That the two mediums are treated so wildly different by the media is perplexing.
An opportunity to have empathy
Part of the problem is a lack of empathy and understanding for other’s situations. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone with too much anxiety to leave the house. Try to understand the position of those physically unable to visit their nearest Pokéstop. Then try to relate to those who revel in the sheer joy of visiting fantastical worlds and meeting diverse characters.
Humanity doesn’t have to be about making everything quantifiable. We don’t have to have a distinct goal to every action in our life. Surely the end goal of our existence is to enjoy it! If games provide harmless fun or, indeed, positive experiences and role models, then they are something to be commended.
Onwards and upwards
It’s great to see a largely positive reception from the public towards Pokémon GO. I hope that this is a slow but steady move towards better understanding of video games and their benefits.
My ultimate wish, however, is that we display better understanding and positivity. There’s nothing wrong with being a basement-dwelling teen who’s exploring the wilds of Ivalice, and there’s also nothing wrong with getting out in the sun and becoming a Pokémon master.