The very worst thing about Pokémon Go

July 22, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

It’s not the fact that the damnable little game/infatuation is on track to become the most annoying insta-trend of 2016, set to burn out as cultural artifact and quasi-nostalgic meme almost as fast as it caught on, and/or when the first tiny-brained gamers annihilate themselves trying to capture a Blastoise and instead stumbling over a cliff. Or crashing your car into a tree. Or stepping on a snake. Or trespassing on closed properties. Or getting mugged. Or get distracted while fighting ISIS.

It’s not the fact that reality, such as it is, needs no augmentation, particularly in the form of exceedingly poorly drawn, cheaply animated “monsters” from the ‘80s that look more like gumball machine stickers decorating a stoned 6-year-old’s bouncy house in a pseudo-Japanese cartoon fever dream.

Attention, gamers! Have you seen nature lately? The wonders of the world? Sunlight and soft air and the roughly ten billion layers of ferociously intoxicating beauty existing pretty much everywhere? Your little cartoon blobs add nothing.

It’s not the spurious argument that says, hey, at least PoGo gamers are getting off the couch/away from their parents’ basement to actually go outside and move around and, you know, discover things – sort of, a little, even though they’re not.

Another tragic side-effect of  Pokemon Go addiction? The tragic inability to dress oneself.

Another tragic side-effect of Pokemon Go addiction? The tragic inability to dress oneself.

Sure, they’re moving. No, they’re not actually getting anywhere. Have you seen the charming pictures of people “playing” Pokémon Go? they look exactly as you expect: heads bowed, postures terrible, eyes glued to tiny screens, oblivious to the wonders surrounding them – including other humans. Is it fun? Your call. Is it truly engaging the world, history, nature? Come now.

Here’s the cynical view: The last thing culture needs is even more even more gadget-obsessed zombies staring into their screens and walking into telephone poles and blotting out the real world and never having sex.

But even that’s not the worst thing.

Verily, the worst thing about Pokémon Go is, of course, the imminent rush of imitators.

Are you ready? For the roughly 10,000 app-makers who are right now in a desperate panic to create countless PoGo competitors, thus spurring even more urban zombification and “augmented” reality silliness? Because this is the biggest takeaway of PoGo mania so far: This is merely the harbinger, a taste of what’s to come. And what’s to come looks about as intellectually interesting and karmically satisfying as watching “Sharknado” in 3D.

Does that sound bitter? Overly curmudgeonly? Probably. I don’t mind. Gamers don’t actually read, anyway.

I know! Totally unfair! Let’s flip it around: Maybe there is more potential here than meets the overly jaundiced eye. Who’s to say capitalism will whore this nascent technology to insulting levels of soullessness before it can do some good? Who’s to say someone won’t invent an augmented reality app that serves actual purpose beyond “capturing” silly cartoons and/or shilling more vente caramel lattes? Maybe augmented reality apps really can promote – at least occasionally – shared outdoor experiences, or even sentimental family bonding? It’s charming to imagine. Naïve, but charming.

I’ve already received one excitable PR email suggesting that not only are retailers scrambling to troll PoGo players into their stores, but surely some intrepid nonprofit could create some sort of “activist treasure hunt,” and the winner could win tickets to a festival? Or a TED Talk? Or a peace rally? Augment reality with some love and social justice? Could happen. See? Optimism! It’s the new cynicism.

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Mark Morford

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