By: Zak O’Bryan
Being suspicious of games, the outdoors and my cellular device, I cannot imagine retaining pleasure from Pokémon GO. Despite my reservations, it has garnered the most first-week downloads in the history of Apple’s app store, even doubling the daily usage of the Facebook app on Androids at its peak. The popularity of the game and the publication of its analytics has waned, but its highly reported accolades and record-breaking two-month, $500 million gross already seem enough to cement its status in our cultural memory alongside the franchise.
However set in or beset by rules, any belittled reward system has once had the name game. I refrain from belittled things as a rule and so even choke the cherished recollections I share with many of its mature users. As the millennium turned, I coveted my sister’s Pokémon cards and cried with her for the movie’s moribund Pikachu and all the amazement, angst and anguish her small screen could evoke of the infinite world. As the 21st century ages, few concepts frighten me like that of technological fetishization, corporate entrapment and collective isolation.
I find the affective and temporal investments most games call for appalling, yet in an episode of eschatological anxiety last month, Candy Crush assuaged me most lovingly in creating an emotional exit by superficially reinvesting my energy toward something colourful, cloying and inconsequential. A bored child is an existential crisis like any, and then I believed in Gold like gold and Silver like silver, as much as I believe in them now. Only now, playing with my feelings at a half-a-billion dollar exchange rate seems as if it should seem preferable. Though GO, you say, being an exigence to exit, embraces that beyond yourself. It’s a breath of fresh air and connection to the environs, the dollar-deist life. It persuades me toward watching your chase of the game like a pagan nomad within an institution enough overgrown for the hunt to map to your every move. I too have lost a share of weight to the issue.
Business has capitalized wisely on our unnatural migratory patterns, setting up shop for example, through Gyms; spaces in which players challenge each other to duels between one of their 151 pocketable domestications. More impressive than money is that within any of us lies such latent affection for intangible artefacts: the battles may satisfy you more deeply than the stroll which tried your will, the stray dollar you tipped the stand, the hastened treat you purchased there and the app which kept crashing. I cannot fathom an anxiety more exigent to exercise than food, so some of me sympathizes somewhere there.
The fact that a number of users in the catch-‘em-all conquest have reported dramatic physical benefit speaks to GO: beyond stiff thumbs, unblinking eyes and mental pleasures enough to call up a consumptive catatonia, it takes blood and bone and it takes up space. Better than a thumb-wide screen, GO projects the space in the palm of your hand onto the space around you; better than a virtual reality, it through and through virtualizes the already real through itself. In exchange for pleasure, GO imbibes so much of the otherwise mundane terrain with, “Lo, a Beedrill!”
It becomes hard to tell which exits take you deeper. About a decade ago, it may have felt natural to go outdoors without a mobile phone, or any phone for that matter, but our dependency has capitalized on old anxieties to generate new ones—so much so that often I cannot tell if I mistrust the outdoors or the phone, particularly when the latter has become integral to engagements with the former. A general mistrust one calls paranoia, and often paranoia calls itself cynicism. Either way, if Squirtle led my desires on a gentle amble to a pop-up shop across town, I should feel more stable, but only before my phone loses charge and plunges me into the disillusioning chaos of a world without telecommunications, or more tragically, fun.
So I have mapped an escape in anticipation of such an apocalypse: it is to cruise about more slowly and savour the bare pleasures of my most immediate existence.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/news/escaping-pokemon-go/.