Pokémon Go’s launch in the US, and then a few impatient days later in the UK, was met with huge excitement by players (and media – there have been over 1,200 articles in the last 10 days!). Twitter went crazy, with currently over a million mentions globally as users get on the hunt to catch ‘em all. The news has played out in a classic media hype cycle; casual curiosity escalating to unbelievable fandom and then finally full-blown fear in less than a week. In fact, the number of negative articles around the game has increased by 480% in the last six days (12th July – 18th July) and those articles are becoming even more ludicrous each day.
At first, headlines echoed users’ enthusiasm. Both Vice and the Guardian had journalists writing ambivalent articles about how the game was glitchy, but overall good, clean japes; “the real fun comes from going outside to explore”. Tech journalists collated ‘top tips’ listicles and various mind-blowing stats about its huge success – Nintendo’s share price ballooning by £5.8bn, for instance. It has since dropped, as they revealed it will have very little impact on their profits- for the moment, it isn’t a big money maker.
It didn’t take long for the tone to turn sour as the news went mainstream, however. Stories began to circulate about the potential risks of Rattata (one of the 151 creatures users need to catch) luring children outside into unknown dangers. News popped up on The Sun about a hapless teen who wandered into (and was inevitably trapped inside) an underground cave. The Evening Standard reported how three students were robbed at knifepoint while playing. The potential terrors reached the TV morning sofas; Holly and Phil from ITV interviewed a child safety expert who highlighted the potential dangers of children wandering away on their own, attention glued to smartphones, into previously unexplored areas of town. Tabloid headlines about ‘sick paedos’ potentially hijacking ‘gyms’ and ‘battles’ led to an official statement from the NSPCC, warning parents to keep an eye on any Oddish-obsessed offspring off on adventures.
Social discussions in contrast have been generally more benign. Mentions of dog walking have tripled across Twitter, as people take the opportunity to walk their pets whilst hunting Pikachu. The main criticism from people using the game is the constant crashing, and the growing complaints of Poké-widows deserted by partners; even Kylie Jenner and Zoella aren’t immune to boyfriends addicted to the game. Google searches for portable chargers have dramatically spiked in the last three days, and rumours are spreading about the new iPhone containing a specially adapted battery to squash any future Poké-related battery woes.
Suspicion around new tech may be currently rife, but the long-term effects seem more positive. As the scare-mongering calms, the real-world benefits will emerge. Anecdotal reports of soaring numbers of daily steps show that Nintendo has managed to do what FitBit failed at as reclusive gamers are stepping out from the shadows into July sunshine.