As a kid, I remember catching hell for playing video games. They were “childish” and “lame” according to a lot of the pretty girls, “dorky” and “for losers” according to a lot of the popular guys. Hey, at least that was my experience. As a young adult, even the mere mention of World of Warcraft was enough to get the proverbial “L” stamped on your forehead.

Stereotypically, gamers have been, for a long time, seen as basement-dwelling, rent-free mouth-breathers that do little more than scream at TV screens and computer monitors, have no life other than digital, and are pasty-white, overweight, and nothing more than a drain on their mother and father’s resources.

To chase a rabbit, let me remind the haters that you spent plenty of time in your man/woman caves, screaming at TV screens during football games, yelling at computer monitors because you “hate technology,” and spend most of your time with your face glued to Facebook. To wit, you are no different than gamers in your own right. No no, no smartass comments. It’s out there, you’re living with it. 😛

That being said, there is a new dawn for gamers. One that requires us to emerge, blinking, from our dungeons, squinting under the newfound blast of holy light, hissing at the overwhelming intake of UV light, and trying desperately to exist in this new world.

Yes, I’m talking about “outside.”

Pokemon, at its inception, and core, is a game about venturing into the world, catching adorable monsters, and training them to attack and murder other adorable monsters, likely with little explosive farts of stars and glitter when they die. Okay okay, perhaps I’m embellishing a bit, but you get the idea. Find monsters, train them to be better, kill the bad guys. Typically gaming setup for most titles these days, in one form or another.

Over the years, having worked off and on in the gaming industry, and witnessing in passing, Pokemon grew into, and has retained its status as, a world-wide sensation. The roster has grown from Pikachu to countless hundreds that I have completely and utterly lost track of, and most of the time, my encounters with Pokemon have been the source of a few hearty chuckles, along with some headshaking at the rampant fanaticism of a few nameless 20-somethings who lived for nothing more than finding their next Squirtle, or evolving an Eevee into it’s final form. To those from my past, I sincerely apologize.

I was initially skeptical of Pokemon Go. Another app that de-evolves people into scrambling hordes, clogging up public places and pushing and shoving to be first in line. But after downloading and making a character, I discovered the merit in Pokemon Go that Michelle Obama hasn’t discovered to combat childhood obesity in eight years. Yes, shameless rip of a meme I saw, but it fits. Pokemon Go is getting gamers on their feet in a meaningful way.

The other day, I went on a walk with some friends, just through our neighborhood. What I found, initially, was the camaraderie of three people who normally just met online to play video games. We walked through neighborhoods, catching Pokemons as we went, and got an hour or so of sun. Considering I’m so white, I’m clear, it was good to get out and go for a walk. I could use the exercise anyway, so double the benefit.

As the walk went on, we started encountering other groups doing the same thing, hunting down monsters across the neighborhood, coordinating efforts and pointing each other in the direction of each other’s latest catch. It brought people on the street together in a way that, to be honest, I haven’t seen in years. Most of the time, people are wary of each other, saying very little, if anything at all. To see a phone app open communication, increase awareness of surroundings, and create social re-engagement was incredible. Healthy friendships are being discovered, probably romance somewhere, along with healthy rivalries to foster esprit de corp among friends, knit closer bonds, and generally bring people back together. We spend so much time today avoiding others, looking out only for ourselves, that it’s revolutionary to see people actually communicating again.

As with anything else, upside has a downside. Crime seems to innovate with anything, and Pokemon Go isn’t without it’s dangerous side. Pokemons can be hunted and caught at all hours of the day and night, based on their biome or orientation. Some only come out during the day, others only at night. Lures and incense can be used in the game to lure Pokemon to specific places. These lures appear on everyone’s app, and draw people in droves to specific areas. Two reported events I’ve read, one in Philadelphia, and one in Missouri, have shown criminals using these lures to draw people to locations, where they are mugged, or possibly worse, under unique circumstances.

And so, like with anything else, if you’re going to enjoy Pokemon Go, I encourage you to be very careful, travel in groups, and don’t take a risk for that rare Pokemon. You’ll get them again, I promise. Don’t risk life, limb, or health just for a digital pet. Other than that, perhaps we’ll meet at a gym sometime. You never know who’s training where. 😉

Happy hunting, fellow trainers!

–Jimmy

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