Duluth is a great place for kids. It has easy access to trails and waterfalls, giant ships with really loud horns, and a good variety of magical creatures waiting to be captured. That last part, I learned from my niece and nephew, when they visited me in Duluth recently.
Their ability to see these invisible creatures doesn’t bother me. When my sister brought her kids to Duluth, to visit their favorite uncle, they were seeking and capturing virtual creatures in the virtual world, using the Pokémon Go app. Nephew explains how it works.
“You have to walk around and a little animal-like thing will pop up on the screen,” said my 13-year-old nephew, Luke Rose. Then you have to throw a little ball. Then if the ball hits it, it gets trapped by the ball and you get to capture it.”
The game blends reality and fantasy by putting characters on a map of the real world. When you get to a creature’s location, you can point the phones camera at the Pokémon and see the creature moving in reality. Then, you capture it.
“I like the idea of how it actually interacts with where you really are,” said Luke.
But, there are many different types of Pokémon and some are better than others. The game places the good ones near monuments and points of interests. The kids live in a nice, but fairly nondescript suburb, of St. Louis, Missouri. The Pokémon living there keep their lawns trimmed and pay their taxes, but are pretty boring.
“Where we live, it is kind of harder because right near us we usually get the most common Pokémon,” said my 11 year-old niece, Bridget Rose. “When we’re in Duluth we get rarer Pokémon, like when we are at the tower thing (Enger) and the bridge that goes up and down (Lift).”
Even if the kids don’t remember the names of the landmarks, they remember them as the homes of Jigglypuff, Sandshrew, and Tentacool. Duluth isn’t big, but it has many points of interest in a small space. Regardless of location, there is competition.
“If you walk around in parks, you will see people with their phones and most likely they will be playing Pokémon Go,” said Bridget. “Sometimes it’s kind of hard because someone next to you is playing and they will get the Pokémon before you.”
So, it’s popular. But is it good. Some of the old complaints against games don’t quite apply.
“It gets the kids outside,” said their mother Kristy. “It makes them get exercise. It gets them to places they have never been to before.”
The game even has a feature, where it forces you to walk and not drive to someplace, to hatch a Pokémon. However, this new game is just as hard as ever to put down.
“I guess the kids want to be on it all the time,” their mom said. “They probably get addicted to it and they don’t enjoy the park and they just walk around trying to catch Pokémon.”
This is a Brave New World of gaming, where the whole world has become the arcade. There are new dangers that Atari, Nintendo, or even Xbox never dreamt of. The app warns a person not to trespass to capture Pokémon and to always pay attention to their surroundings. To keep someone from chasing Pokémon into the street, the capture range is fairly long.
There have even been cases of criminals using Pokémon to lure players to isolated spots and then rob them. Stories like this cause Kristy to worry some.
“It doesn’t scare me that much because my kids are not of driving age,” said Kristy. “They just walk around the neighborhood. But, it does call for supervision of Pokémon usage.”
To prevent the kids from having too much of a good thing, Kristy also recommends limiting their usage of the Pokémon Go app and administering usage of the app as a reward. Bridget wisely realizes it’s good to use the buddy system, where one friend watches for Pokémon and the other monitors things in the real world.
Like many new technologies, Pokémon Go blurs the line between the real world and the virtual world. We live in an age when people pay real money to place fake buildings on fake farms that only exist on some website’s hard drive (Farmville). So look out, while planning the next family vacation, kids may suggest locations based solely on where they can find the best computer generated cartoon characters that appear on a four-inch screen.
Written by John Shirley for Duluth.com the magazine. Photos by JoAnn Jardine