Pokemon has hit Poland. While the viral mobile phenomenon known as Pokemon GO made its global premier on July 6, it didn’t become available in Poland until July 16. Since then, it has spawned the same level of obsession and hysteria among Polish people as it has in people the world over. It’s even leaving social media sites like Twitter and Instagram in the dust in terms of number of users.
For those not familiar, Pokemon GO is a free mobile game that uses GPS technology to create a virtual world where players can hunt and capture fictional monsters called Pokemon. For example, if you are walking down the street and you turn the game on, it will show a virtual version of that street with Pokemon walking around. There are also certain hotspots, known as “gyms“ and “PokeStops” around the world where people congregate.
The game, released by Nintendo, is based on the Pokemon games and TV shows that reached global popularity in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Those who were childhood fans back then are now adults, many of whom are downloading and playing Pokemon GO for nostalgic reasons. Within four days of its release, Nintendo made $14 million and its stock prices soared.
Now, the same Pokemon GO craze is infecting Poland where sometimes groups of 20 people or more are seen traveling through parks and in town centers searching for the digital monsters. One Polish marketer observes that these are typically males with smart phones who have an interest in the latest gadgets and technology.
Those are the facts of the game, and people’s reactions to it range from total fascination to absolute horror.
On one hand, the game is positive in that it encourages movement. If you don’t physically walk around, you won’t find Pokemon and won’t be able to progress in the game. In the U.S. where there’s an obesity crisis, experts have been searching for ways to get people off the couch for years. Now, Pokemon GO has done it in days. I’ve personally seen more people than ever frequenting parks, trails, forests and other areas where they think they’ll find Pokemon.
But for me, the negatives might just outweigh the positives. While people are, in fact, out and about more, they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. For example, there’s been an increase in people visiting cemeteries, not to pay their respects to loved ones, but to capture so-called ghost-type Pokemon. In Poland, there have been reports of people visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial to capture Pokemon. This is sick and wrong, and I applaud the people who run the Auschwitz memorial for their recent ban of Pokemon GO on the premises.
Furthermore, even though Pokemon GO players are technically being more active outside, they’re still staring at a screen. The problem here, aside from people’s eyes not getting a break from that artificial lighting, is that players are all too often totally oblivious to their surroundings. Since Pokemon can appear anywhere, people have been caught trespassing onto others property, walking through oncoming traffic and even DRIVING while playing the game.
There are further reports of people driving into trees, falling into ditches and off cliffs and getting mugged all because they are watching their phone screen for Pokemon and not paying attention to their surroundings. Don’t believe me? Check out some of these stories. So far, I haven’t heard of any serious accidents in Poland, but it’s only a matter of time if this hysteria keeps spreading.
I’m not trying to be negative here, but it’s this Crazy Polish Guy’s opinion that anything can be fun and positive as long as it’s played responsibly–unfortunately we have a lot of totally irresponsible Pokemon GO players out there. Poland is coming into the craze comparatively late, I hope and pray that they learn from the mistakes made by people in the rest of the world.