One of many criticisms of the millennial generation is that we spend too much time surfing the internet and playing video games, and we apparently don’t get outside enough. This accusation has been levied against us for our whole lives, since our early days of teething on Nintendo controllers. I do not remember a time in which people older than me did not lament “Go OUTSIDE! Do something!”
This week Niantic Labs (the same company that makes my beloved game Ingress) released a new game aimed directly at users mostly younger than me. Like Ingress, Pokemon GO is an augmented reality game, requiring players to actually move around in the real world in order to play. Those who want to play need to go outside and do something, just like we’ve all been told we should.
Immediately warnings went up all over the world. Don’t Play Pokemon GO While Driving! Cnet warns. Players are getting injured! cries Washington Post. My facebook feed flooded with finger wagging posts from everyone, millennials included, warning that playing this game will bring TERRIBLE DANGER!
Look, there is danger in going outside. That risk increases if you aren’t paying attention – so yes, put the phone down when driving or riding your bike. I actually think most people know this, but people crash their cars or fall due to distractions, including using their cell phones, all of the time. The risk of problems also increases for people from marginalized populations wandering outside – the risk to me as an Ingress player is very different than the risk to the black or female players. This risk varies dramatically based on what neighborhood I’m in at the time, and the time of day. Any time you go outside there’s a chance you’ll find a dead body.
The game does not create any of these risks; they are inherent to our world. If a person takes up running, walking, or playing basketball at their local park their risk of injury, harassment, and dead-body finding increases. I see people of all ages walking while looking straight at their cell phone every day, just as I walked around with a book between me and the world every day of my adolescence. Risks and distractions are not new, and Pokemon GO is not unusual.
What IS unusual is that this is a game that it is so popular right out of the gate, and is directly aimed at young adult and teen users – the late half of the millennial generation. I believe this is the reason for all of the hand-wringing. Millennials aren’t allowed to do anything without angst, finger wagging, and panicked news media explaining why they’re wrong. Even when young people are getting out and active, exactly the way we have always been told we ought to (with accompanying angst, finger wagging, and panic) we’re doing it wrong.