Pokémon Go, Police, & Black Lives Matter

I don’t follow the news much other than what pops up on my Facebook feed, what I see on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, or what happens to be on NPR on the occasion that I’m not listening to Spotify in the car.

But lots of things are happening lately – Alton Sterling, a black man, was murdered by the police. He was selling CDs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was caught on video. The next day, Philando Castile, also a black man, was murdered right here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was stopped for having a tail light out. He told the officers that he had a conceal and carry permit and that he was going to get his wallet out of the glove compartment (I probably don’t have all the specifics right). Right after that, his wife or girlfriend started to use Facebook Live to stream what was happening to him. He was dying in the front seat from a shot while his daughter was in the back seat. A white police officer shot a man and we had the ability to broadcast it live thanks to social media.

The day after that (I think. It might’ve been two days later), a man shot many Dallas police officers at a peaceful protest. He was a sniper on a rooftop and was picking off police officers. They had no line of sight, so they sent a bomb-defusing robot up and attached an explosive to it. They killed the sniper rather than detain him for due processing. They were protecting lives but also they could’ve used a flash bang of some sort. I admittedly don’t have all of the information about police procedure, but it seems like some steps were skipped.

In the wake of so much racial tension throughout the U.S. people on the internet are posting things like #blacklivesmatter which often get the retort of #bluelivesmatter. The problem there is that this puts it as an us vs. them thing. Is it black versus blue? Blue isn’t even a race? Or is the point that these officers’ lives are at stake so to say “black lives matter” is making light of the risks they take? I know that there are non-racist folks who say “blue lives matter”, but I also know that the slope from “blue lives matter” to “the black man deserved it” is pretty fucking slippery

We can’t live our lives in a complete state of anxiety. It’s unsustainable. You can’t completely focus on how negative things are, even if you want to. At least, I can’t. Anxiety and stress take a toll on us and we have to do things that relieve that tension. You need to go for walks and play games, for example.

Shortly on the heels of the police killings and the killings by the police comes a new app for smart phones. A company that made a GPS locator game called Ingress teamed up with the Pokemon Company to make a GPS-based phone app- Pokemon Go – that allows you to wander in the great (real) wide world and play the newest iteration of the 20-something year old game on your phone, in real time, with “enhanced reality” and collect digital creatures.

This comes with lots of cool benefits- it gets “gamers” out into the open. I work on a college campus and I’ve seen so many people out on their phones wandering around looking for Pokemon that they haven’t captured yet. They’re talking to each other and traveling in packs. I played the game for the past 3 or 4 days and went Pokemon collecting with a fellow dude friend from my roller derby team. (Masculine cisgendered white nerd dudes often have trouble getting together to just bullshit and talk about things. This happens with my friends from back home, too. If we don’t have Gears of War 3 to play, it’s not like we’ll skype with one another. I’m a social being, like we all are, and we need this interaction. Sometimes this needs a little help and and structure like playing a game.) Would we have hung out if not for this app? Maybe, but probably not in the same way. We wandered around Lake Nakomis with my dog and played this game. We talked to random people we spotted playing the game. Black, white, female, male, old and young people. We’d overhear them saying that a Pokemon was nearby and we’d say we caught it already. Or we’d overhear them talking about a Pokestop that had given them superballs. It’s an app that created a social movement, which is awesome.

What’s not as awesome for me is that there’s no end in sight. The game just goes on and on. There are 150 (I think) Pokemon that you can catch, and some are not likely to be seen in normal places. This is a game that wants to keep you playing indefinitely. Keep overtaking gyms and losing them. Keep collecting Pokemon and wandering. I’m really glad at the extra exercise but thinking about playing this game indefinitely fills me with existential dread. “WHAT’S THE POINT?” The cost here is attention and energy. If we’re doing this what else AREN’T we doing? That’s a tough thing to think about all the time, but it keeps me up at night. I’m a guy who gets distracted by new things. I want to try this stuff out, but I wish there was a point to it all. I wish I could reasonably achieve the goal that was put to me and move on to the next thing. I want bite- and meal-sized interactions with games. I don’t want a career in the form of a game.

The other not-so-awesome point with Pokemon Go, is how the heck is this super in-depth game free? I’m not sure what the revenue stream is, but the app asks you to authenticate through your Google account. If you’re like me, you just authorized it to use your main Google account so that you don’t have to go fishing around for the passwords of your other 10 or 15 accounts. The downer is that the app, right now, has full access to your Google account. I know that they’ve apologized for this, and they’re working on fixing it. That means it can read all of your emails, see all of your documents in Drive, and know who all of your contacts are. Not to mention whatever it wants on your device. Browsing history, searches, what iOS your phone is rocking- all of that. (For now.) I saw a statistic that says Google complied with 78% of requests for information. It all makes me a little uneasy.

What about non-information and Pokemon Go? What about our desires and motivation? There’s a lot of good will and energy to do altruistic things. People want to make a difference. People want to get healthy and interact. People want to express themselves and be heard. But I think these impulses and altruistic desires that previously lead to jobs or more creative outlets (playing a sport, writing for a magazine, joining a nonprofit) are easily swallowed up by things that are dead ends. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ll probably write this and post it on my Tumblr or WordPress instead of shopping around for a place to publish this. Sure, it’ll feel really good if I get some follows and likes and comments on social media. But if I don’t focus my energy spending time getting outside of where it’s easiest to publish, that’s where it’ll die.

So back to Pokemon Go-  it harnesses the energy of people to wander around and collect creatures. They’re interacting, which is great, and as a result new friendships might spawn from that, but what else? Is this the case of the easiest way to do a thing preying on our good intentions?

And here’s an argument that I’m not the biggest fan of, but it needs to be said: are we getting distracted from bigger issues to keep us complacent? Playing these types of games keeps us happy, but are they just feeder pellets? Is it some kind of treat to keep us distracted from the police beating the hell out of and eradicating people of color? I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means. I don’t think the creators of Pokemon Go are collaborating with the police to keep us numb to the interactions. I do think that this could be a perfect storm of sorts. We’ll literally be out in the world but unable to see what’s going on around us because of an unreality.

I don’t know what the answer is.

I had to stop playing that game. I want to be less reliant on my phone, not more. But I do find myself wanting to play a finite GPS type game that will encourage me go to places I’ve never seen before and earn badges… wait, isn’t that what Foursquare did like 8 years ago?