Collector’s Edition

I haven’t thought about Pokémon in years. It’s never been a thing for me, probably because I couldn’t summon the energy to really delve deep into the kind of lore that gave its characters names like Squirtle or Charmander. (Look at me, fronting like I’m all highbrow and shit.) Besides, kids back then had already been playing with real pocket monsters for years; it was common to catch spiders (damang), keep them in matchboxes and, at recess, unleash them to lip sync for their life battle for supremacy. It was like American Gladiators, but with bloodthirsty arachnids. What could possibly compare to that?

spider-fighting-matchbox
The OG of pocket monsters. Pikachu wishes.

Still, Pokémon was big enough for me to be aware it existed. My brothers were into the anime for a while, and you’d have to have lived under a rock not to know what the basic premise was: gotta catch them all! Catch all the monsters you can, train them and pit them against other monsters from other collectors. It was a phenomenon much like Pogs, something most of us had consigned to the collective dustbin,  a forgotten relic of  happier, more innocent times. But proving that what is dead never dies but rises again harder and stronger, Pokémon has found a second life as Pokémon Go, a phone app so insanely hot, its users exceeded the number of Twitter users only days after its launch.

The app utilizes the  phone’s GPS to show users where Pokémon could be hiding in their neighbourhood. Like the video game, all the user has to do is find them and throw a virtual Pokéball at them, completing the “catch.” The fun doesn’t stop there – the user gets to “train” the little Pokémon, and use it to battle other Pokémon in “virtual gyms,” which  could also be close to wherever you may be at any given moment.

So here we all are, grown adults running around the city trying to catch virtual monsters. I can see why that would be addictive. Finding the little buggers is what makes the game so engrossing. It’s a game set in an augmented real world and every neighbourhood is a potential gold mine. Also, a user can inadvertently burn a bajillion calories just walking around searching for the elusive Pokémon. Maybe that’s what this game is all about – a heinous plan to reduce obesity!  It’s the perfect combination of fantasy, reality, nostalgia and enforced exercise.

If you’re too busy trying to find a virtual monsters around you, chances are you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. Being distracted in a big bad city, can be like painting a target on your back. Did I say safer? I wasn’t surprised when reports popped up of crooks taking advantage of Pokemon Go to rob the unsuspecting of their very expensive smartphones. It was bound to happen. It’s survival of the fittest, and humans never disappoint. Every time something awesome happens, I wait for shit to go down, because someone is always going to be an asshole take advantage.

It’s not a secret that we users are the end product.While we’re all busy hieing off to collect virtual monsters, they’re also busy collecting data on us.  Where we are, what we do, what we like. Anything we do online, be it using social media, playing Candy Crush, buying stuff on Amazon, making reservations at restaurants or mapping out directions, every single thing we do is dissected, picked apart, monetized and sold to potential advertisers. It’s why we see targeted ads when we’re online – ads about Chinese food, or shoes, or the latest GoPro – and get e-mails about certain promotions and sales. Our individual preferences are used to try to make us buy something. It’s called data mining, and we’re giving our data to them for free. That’s how these apps ultimately make money.

So there’s something to be said about giving the powers that be too much access to our private lives. Think about it. An app that basically pinpoints wherever we are at any given moment and has access to a camera that could theoretically transmit images of private locations to whomever pulls the strings? “Gotta catch them all” wouldn’t just apply to Pokémon. It would also apply to us as well.

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