Go Outside and Do Something! Except Not That

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.

Go Outside and Do Something! Except Not That

7 thoughts on “Go Outside and Do Something! Except Not That

  1. 1

    The thing that I find so odd about this is that the “traditional” games of childhood (Hide and Seek, Tag, Etc.) are just as distracting as a smartphone. I nearly lost an eye playing tag (less than an inch to the left and… well I’d rather not think about it). How many kids have run out into a street after a football? Or a pet? How many kids have fallen out of trees? (I personally have fallen out of more trees than I care to remember – that I never broke a single bone in my body is more down to dumb luck than to the safety of tree climbing). Also, how many kids have gotten injured playing sports – even when supervised? Everything we do carries an element of risk. The best we can do is educate our kids about that risk and give them the tools to avoid it… or we can swaddle them in cotton wool and bubble wrap and lock them in their rooms…

  2. 2

    My son got Pokemon Go, went outside with it, and promptly stumbled down the step off the back porch and twisted his ankle. (in fairness, he was at a house he rarely visits and is not all that familiar with it) He was quite proud to be among the first Go-related injuries. But now he knows to be more careful.

  3. 3

    I love pointing out the hypocrisy of “go outside oh wait we actually meant please do activities that look familiar to us.”

    And a lot of the panic here does seem utterly inane – like the PEOPLE ARE DYING WHILE TAKING SELFIES!!!!! headlines, or the concern over people having medically safe negative experiences with newly-legal marijuana. Most of the “concern” looks like a way for people to transmute their anxiety over the new into justified & superior feels.

    But I’m not sure that I’m entirely on board with the argument that these games don’t create new risks. Faking an appearance of purposefulness, acting like I know where I’m going/am comfortable (even when totally lost) is one of my oldest and most deeply-ingrained survival skills. The sales pitch of augmented reality games sounds deeply thrilling. But the thought of an activity that innately requires me to look lost – especially in areas I’m not already familiar with, presumably while alone – goes against all my “keep myself safe” alarms. And an activity that innately involves being in new areas while doing something for which observers don’t have an expected/safe explanation sounds hella worrisome for poc.

    Obviously these concerns aren’t exclusive to these games (also super apparent in geocaching, urban exploration, larping in populated areas). And they’re all problems with the culture context rather than games themselves? But still a conversation worth having/problem worth acknowledging.

  4. 4

    CN: gun violence reference. As kids, we made up a game that made fun of common violence on tv at the time (60s, 70s). It was called “Who Falls The Best” which one player would call one of our names and while we ran toward them and we would pratfall, when they said “bang,” in the most dramatic and ludicrous manner. That we didn’t break any bones or got concussions was pure luck. I remember once using my head as the pivot point to flip over. So go outside and play kids, just not that or that or especially NOT that.

  5. 6

    For the past year, our teenager would always grumble and find excuses when we asked her to walk the dog with us. This week, she’s been super-excited, and wants to check out new locations all over town. I can’t say enough good things about the game. It’s fun to watch her collect the little things, too.

  6. 7

    jb @3:

    I love pointing out the hypocrisy of “go outside oh wait we actually meant please do activities that look familiar to us.”

    IMO, it’s more like “go outside oh wait we actually meant please do activities that we approve of”.

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