Here’s what we know so far about Pokémon Go!
It has an accent on the e. Pokémon without an accent is just Pokemon, which is a West Indian nudging you with a stick.
It also requires an exclamation mark but it’s not the end of a sentence, which means sub-editors need to be extra vigilant when journalists mention Pokémon Go! in the middle of a sentence. (Well played, sub-editors of The Times. Safe hands.)
Pokémon Go! is also a gigantic stride forward for humanity in that augmented reality is augmenting reality in an augmentative way. What’s that you say? How can reality be augmented? Isn’t the nature of reality simply that it adjusts to contain the new bits? I mean, isn’t “improving reality” a bit like claiming you can make water wetter? Well, it JUST DOES, SO SHUT UP, KILLJOY.
Also, Pokémon Go! marks the beginning of the end of our species.
In case you know nothing about the most important issue of our times, Pokémon are those disturbing cartoon creatures that we used to not watch in the 1990s. Remember those? They had names that perfectly captured the Japanese affection for impossibly cute toys and unbelievably upsetting porn – Smorgaslube, Pantypoot, Smegmatron – and the animated show taught us valuable lessons about friendship, determination, and the importance of trapping and enslaving every single living creature you found in nature.
Now, using the magic of mobile phones and monetised nostalgia, Nintendo has turned the relentless hunt for Pokémon into a game in which you wander about like a Victorian naturalist, muttering “Gotta catch ’em all!” as you snag ephemeral beasts in your digital butterfly-net before heading home to pin them to the vast, blank board of your existential loneliness.
The game is proving very popular. According to most media, it has taken over the planet, which means it is being played by at least 5% of Americans and comfortably half a percent of everyone else. Still, once you strip away the hyperbole, the numbers are impressive. Those who criticise Go! on the grounds that “none of it is real” should try and tell that to Nintendo, which has added more than seven billion very real dollars to its market value in the last few days.
leaping willingly off cliffs, dawdling on train tracks
Similarly real are the dangers it apparently poses to humanity. Jacobin, a socialist magazine, warned us that “if they wanted to, the game’s creators could send people leaping willingly off cliffs, dawdling on train tracks, running into forest fires”. (For an ideology that claims to be on the side of the little guy, those socialists sure seem to have a pretty low opinion of the little guy’s intellect. I mean, the whole forest fire scenario was already getting a bit creaky by the time we were eight. Remember? “And if Gary told you to jump off a cliff or run into a forest fire, would you?” No, Mom, obviously I wouldn’t, because, while Gary can be persuasive, I’m not the total cretin Jacobin thinks I am.)
Mind-control isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. According to Nigerian writer Bayo Akomolafe, Pokémon Go! is “the tale of Icarus, soaring away from the ground; the tale of the Holy Spirit, brooding over Genesis waters, maybe not quite touching it; it is the Copernican revolution in pixels, our over-saturation with the familiar and lust for heliocentricity.” I don’t know what any of that means, but if Pokémon Go! is inspiring that kind of prose, then we really do have a problem.
Still, there are clearly some positive spinoffs, mainly for academics in the Humanities, who will now be able to apply for funding to travel to conferences to postulate that Pikachu’s frustrated cries of “Pika! Pika!” represent the post-9/11 neoliberal silencing of left-wing dissent.
The anxieties, however, will be hard to dispel. People fear the game will turn us into a dehumanised, passive herd, as if alienated labour and state propaganda and the advertising industry and television and the internet hadn’t already completed that job years ago.
I don’t share these worries. For me, Pokémon Go! is simply the newest window through which we’ll watch ourselves doing what we always do. And as nice as it is to feel special by pronouncing that reality has never been this great or that our doom has never been more certain, the fact remains that things are ticking along more or less as they always have.
There have always been people who stop on roads to have fistfights over ownership of invisible friends. There have always been people who warn us that the new fad is the end of everything. There have always been people who don’t really care, either way.
And there have always been people who sat back on a pile of money, pat each other on the back, and giggle, “Gotta catch ’em all!”