Pokémon Go | Mountain Biking, Hiking and the Great Outdoors Could Be Casualties of the New Nintendo Craze
Put down the phone and you shouldn’t need a Voltorb to keep you electrified...
There are few things I treasured more as a child than the blue Apollo mountain bike delivered by Santa Claus when I was six, which my parents later tried to take credit for, and scribbling stories about dragons that had margins so big they made the word count look thicker than the kid at the back of the class with his trousers down and his finger up his nose.
The Pokémon Blue Gameboy Colour cartridge I won for being well behaved at after-school club, however, was up there at the top of the list.
Pokémon provided an otherworldly haven to a kid whose angry pet hamster was just a bit too much of an anarchist to earn the love or respect it so craved. Why get clawed in the face by a rodent when you could train up a Rattata?
I went all-in on the Pokémon craze, as did those around me. One of my best days as a youth was when I found a stack of 100-odd Pokémon cards in the giant holly bush at the end of the road; a holly bush which only those under 4ft could gain entry to without getting maimed by thorns. And the television program only extended the fervour; becoming a cornerstone of my childhood viewing alongside Jungle Run, a show where nine-year-old contestants would regularly leave their friends stranded in a cave rather than lose five seconds of time in their hunt for a pogo stick.
So surely, since the only thing that’s really changed since I was six is that I now fall more from mountain bikes than I do from trees, I would be relishing the arrival of Pokémon Go, the free new augmented-reality mobile application which uses GPS and maps to turn the world around you into that of Pokémon?
And the truth is, yes, in some ways I am excited. Walking around a city you’ve known for years and coming across an Onix just around from the local is pretty freakin’ cool. It’ll get a lot more people exploring the city as well – and when we say a lot, we mean a lot; apparently there’s already more Pokémon Go users on android than there is on Tinder or even Twitter.
But it’s also therein that exploration that my concerns lie. Now, Pokémon Go has already been hailed as a great tool for fitness and for getting people outdoors. Frankly, I think the fitness hype is somewhat bullshit. Most who do go outdoors specially because of the game probably won’t venture far enough to make an impact on their fitness and those who do journey far were probably no stranger to the outdoors to begin with.
More to the point though, there’s a prudent fear in the pit of my stomach – the same kind of fear you’d get if your pride-and-joy level 10 Pikachu came up against a level 20 Sandslash – that Pokémon Go could lead to similarly phone-plagued proceedings in the hills, valleys and mountain bike trails as those felt at musical concerts after the introduction of the camera phone.
I think all of those engrossed by the great outdoors will be in agreement that the reason it's so 'great' comes down to getting away from the hustle and bustle and from the storm of screens which have come to dominate our lives; whether that be on a billboard, a television or on the phone, tablet or laptop on which you’re reading this now.
But what if the craze persists and leads screen-staring revellers onto local trails for hiking or mountain biking? Normally a rowdy goat or a rogue bit of litter is the main nuisance when you get out to the wild, but if I have to wade through a group of 20-somethings battling their invisible Pidgeots while trekking round Lake Louise, it’s going to take away from the magic.
The hopeful saving grace is that Pokémon Go does aim to generate Pokémon and ‘Pokémon Gyms’ – where you go to train and battle – in densely populated areas, i.e. the city.
But what with people being morons and all, we can’t help but feel like a fair few will make their way into the hills soon enough to check out what they can find. And with parks and churches said to be the main targets for Gyms, an influx of people into green areas around your city could be on the way.
Quite a few of the press release shots seem to be set out in the hillside and mountains as well, suggesting that there might indeed be merit to users bringing their app out to the wild. That said, those press release shots, or the one above anyway, also suggests that it's realistic for a Poké trainer to breed a level 17 Magikarp, and who the fuck has the time for that?
Anyway, isn’t it good that more people are getting out to the hills when they’d otherwise be stuck inside, I hear you ask? No. Not if they're going to be glued to their screens. Put down the phone and look at what’s around you and you shouldn't need a Voltorb to keep you electrified.
The great outdoors is about embracing exactly that; about navigating the wilderness; the unknown; about tackling obstacles laid down by nature, breathing in the fresh air and embracing the outstanding views that are otherwise inaccessible. Not about getting pissed off at not being able to catch a Zapdos because you don't have an Ultra Ball.
Adventure is the stupid smile at the start of the biggest climb that says you don’t know exactly what you’re getting into but you can’t wait to find out. It’s about the conversation along the way, the real life Pokémon that scurry past you as you go – the deer, the hares, the dead corpse of a sheep being eaten by maggots – about the dirt beneath your hiking boots and the ache in your legs as you sit down at the top of the hill and look out on the calm around you, or bring a whole new level of chaos to that calm by whizzing down it on two wheels.
We understand getting your phone out to check a map or two while you’re up there or to snap a couple of photos, but taking on the outdoors for the sole purpose of an android app is something we just can’t get on board with; it’s like the ‘Strava wanker’ who ruins your ride to boast about his, but made 50 times worse.
Phones have become commonplace at music gigs to the point where there’s no stopping them now. It's part of the script at every concert; and subsequently the culture - the upside of which being that if you can’t afford a ticket to see Beyonce at Wembley you can probably watch the whole thing on your friend’s Snapchat.
It sounds ridiculous to think that such an infection could ever happen in the wilderness, and in all honesty we highly doubt it will in the true hills and mountains that give bikers and hikers the most pleasure; but what we do predict if Pokémon Go is here to stay is that you’re little city escapes; the doorstep adventures that take your Monday from mundane to magical, could see a noticeable impact.
If there’s a Jigglypuff in the forest five minutes down the road where you’ve put together a techy little mountain bike trail, you can be sure you’ll be shouting “move" a whole lot more while you’re slipping down the trail if the fad keeps growing. Ash himself would be mortified. The Pokémon protagonist is a renowned member of the mountain biking community.
If you climb around the city there’s a fairly decent chance a bunch of lads throwing invisible Poké balls will be breaking your fall rather than your spotter. If you ride a velodrome or a BMX track in the park nearby you’re probably going to be seeing a strange crowd staring hypnotically at their phones like a confused school of stranded Magikarp, the only thing in fiction or nonfiction currently more useless than a British politician.
There’s already been shown to be flaws in the data being used for Pokémon Go; the guy who’s home was once a church and has mistakenly been transformed into a Gym with crowds lurking outside, for example, and one user who was even directed through a forest and stumbled upon a dead body while looking for a catch.
That last one isn’t the apps fault of course, but what’s to stop the app regularly directing a bunch of folk across a regularly used cycle path or hiking trail? It seems more than likely.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the cheeky smirk of a Diglett or a Charmander as much as the next guy, but let’s hope ‘Pokémon trainers’ crowding local adventure spots don’t fire us into a hole we can’t dig ourselves out of.
If you come to the hills, the best you're going to get is a grass Pokémon anyway. And everyone knows Bulbasaur was the shit one.