Commentary Search

Don’t walk off a cliff while chasing a Charmeleon

  • Published
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

It has recently been brought to my attention that wild animals have been seen roaming the grounds of MacDill. Fortunately, these alarming reports also mentioned how the Airmen stationed on base have been tracking and capturing these feral creatures. However, what came as an even more surprising revelation is that these Airmen were spending their time on the hunt during their off-duty hours, without so much as a single prompt from their chain of command.  

A lot of senior NCOs are of the opinion that our junior Airmen lack the necessary personal motivation to leave their dorm rooms to do anything other than their official duties.  They believe the younger Airmen were raised as a generation addicted to online gaming and social media, which have robbed them of their enthusiasm for interacting with other people in the real world. Of course, these senior NCOs also grew up in a time where rusty metal playground equipment was likely to give you a staph infection. Millennials may be more prone to a social media addiction, but as it turns out, the creators of this game completely cracked the code to get them off the sofa and into the real world.

Well, “real world” may be a bit of a misnomer in this situation. As it turns out, the creatures our Airmen are hunting only exist in the augmented reality of Pokémon GO. The older Pokémon video game series used real-world locations such as Japan, New York, and Paris as inspiration for the fantasy settings in which its games take place. In Pokémon GO, the real world is the setting. Making use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices, the game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, who appear on device screens as though they actually exist. 

From what I understand, players begin by creating an avatar, which is displayed at the player's current location along with a map of the player's immediate surroundings. As players travel the real world, their avatar moves along the game's map as they chase animals with names like Charmeleon, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle. So in order to play the game, players have to actually get up and “do” something; as opposed to sitting on the sofa wired into a game console like I did as a teenager. I grew up in the era of Pong, Atari and the original Nintendo. I was hard wired into my game console in my parent’s living room floor like a Neanderthal. Compared to today’s virtual-reality games, it was like using a flintlock rifle on a Civil War battlefield.

My mother was certain that Frogger, Duck Hunt, and Mario Brothers were rapidly reducing my brain to mush the consistency of oatmeal. Despite my insistence that the games enhanced my hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills, she was certain the hours I spent glued to the television were reducing my IQ on a minute-by-minute basis. My father was convinced that my future career options dwindled exponentially every time I played Galaga. However, it turns out those fears were unfounded. 

As a senior NCO with nearly two decades in the Air Force, I have traveled the world. I have been stationed in several states, earned two Community College of the Air Force degrees, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, and have been in harm’s way while deployed in defense of our nation. America stands for freedom, free speech, and every man’s right to waste his personal time engaged in habits ranging from collecting stamps to golf or hunting, even if the animals being hunted don’t actually exist. Hobbies come and go, and gaming is no less frivolous than what my dad did to keep him occupied as a teen…carving and shaping wooden replicas from block wood kits. I can tell you with no hesitation that such a hobby had absolutely zero positive impact on his career as a correctional officer in a North Carolina penitentiary.

“But chasing down imaginary animals is a complete waste of time!” you might say. Compared to what?  Facebook? Facebook isn't just a harmless website dedicated to cataloging your vacations, poor wardrobe choices, and myopic thoughts on sporting events (which can both define or destroy relationships), it can actually do you harm. Studies done by real scientists, in lab coats and everything, hint that it can impact your immune system and inhibit the release of growth hormones, impair digestion and vision, limit thinking and kill creativity, and negatively affect sleep patterns and happiness.

And as far as wasting time, it is estimated that the average casual user (17 minutes per day on Facebook) who has been active on the site for 10 years has wasted upwards of 40 entire days of their lives scrolling, liking, and commenting on pictures and posts. More engaged users, who spend at least an hour a day on the site, have clocked 150 days feeding the Facebook beast during the same time. Think about how long you spend on the site each day, and what else could be a more productive use of your time, like inviting a friend over to talk about how much you both loved Save By the Bell and Full House.

Pokémon GO might not lead us to the cure for cancer or solve world hunger. However, it is certainly more productive than other games, like Angry Birds. I will admit that a few years ago during the height of the game’s popularity, I spent more time than I care to admit flinging weaponized poultry at those thieving swine. Now however, the massive popularity of the newest smartphone craze has resulted in several unusual positive impacts. For example, the game has serendipitously enabled players to help catch criminals and to report crimes in progress. National parks across the United States saw an influx of visitors due to the game, with "hundreds or thousands" of people visiting the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. on the weekend following Pokémon Go's release in the country.

Are there concerns with Pokémon Go? Certainly; there is the account of two players who fell off 90-foot cliff, and the player who was stabbed while looking for a late-night virtual battle. Just today I saw a disturbing report that a driver sideswiped a Baltimore Police car while playing the game while he was driving! Undoubtedly there is an appropriate time and place to engage in this particular past time; behind the wheel is probably the most egregious abuse of a smartphone application that I have ever heard of. 

Regardless, the game has attracted the world's attention. It is a game that appeals to both young and old. People are exploring their communities where they otherwise might not have done so. Since Pokémon Go is a non-violent game, it also pushes families to walk around to play the game together. It has succeeded by coaxing otherwise antisocial Airmen out of their dorm rooms and enticed them into actual face-to-face conversations with other people. As long as Airmen aren’t playing Pokémon during Green Dot training, or using it to cheat on their Career Development Courses, I hope they “catch 'em all!"…as long as they stay away from it while driving.