The other week the streets around Wellington began filling up with people wandering about staring at their phones.
It turned out they were playing PokemonGo, which hadn’t existed the week before but by about Wednesday was being played by at least 29.6 billion people worldwide (I know what I said).
I haven’t leaped on the band-wagon – I don’t have the time, and it’s not the sort of game that appeals to me. But the speed of uptake by everybody else told me something about the human condition.
There’s the obvious stuff – it’s a game that appeals to late-X gen and millennials who remember it from the 90s. It can pick up the way it did because, for the first time, everybody has a smartphone.
But there’s something more. The game is apparently about projecting a hidden world on the real one. And a hidden world – any hidden world – as an awful lot of appeal.
To those who don’t share that world – like the befuddled people on the beach of Wellington’s Oriental Bay who watched a couple of kayakers paddle offshore and sit there staring at their phones – the behaviour of those in PokemonGo land is nonsensical.
For those in it – well, it’s a kind of magic. Hyper-reality. The world of faerie that we wished for as kids and never had. And isn’t that wonderful?
To me this is the message. One of the things humans are very good at is imagining stuff that isn’t there and treating it as if real. This doesn’t mean ‘magic’ and ‘fairies’ alone. A lot of our institutions rest on our ability to make what we imagine seem real, one way or another. It’s how conspiracy theorists get traction. Sometimes that ability can be supremely damaging – witness the social panics that led to ‘witch hunts’ in the seventeenth century and the Communist hunting of the 1950s.
PokemonGo taps into the same deep thread, which runs in many ways to the heart of the human condition. I think it’s this that has seized imaginations – the popularity of Pokemon, originally, was merely the starting trigger. And with it, Nintendo has (again) turned the gaming world on its head. I suppose the other big players will be scrabbling now to make games like it. And I suppose it won’t be long before somebody builds an app for VR goggles that does the same thing.
I bet they’ll be popular. Must finish now, I’m off to buy stocks in Oculus Rift.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016