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Essay

Zombie invasion

By Patrick St. Michel

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Many people playing "Pokemon Go" say they've become addicted to the smartphone game since its July 22 release in Japan. I can sympathize. I had a six-month stretch in 2011 where I was addicted to "Angry Birds," a game where you hurl unhappy fowls at green pigs. I would play it on the train and also spend a couple hours every night at home staring at my phone. Sometimes, in the middle of especially frustrating stages, I'd forget to eat dinner. This was not my most outgoing period of life.

At least Pokemon Go players get out of the house. Slightly older smartphone games — such as Angry Birds — attracted users because they were great ways to kill time. You could play them on the way to work, or while waiting to meet someone, or in lieu of eating. What's intriguing about Pokemon Go, though, is how proactive it is. As you probably know by now, you have to wander around and find the critters on your own. This makes sense when you take into account it was originally envisioned as a fitness app. You could use Pokemon Go while sitting on your couch, but that wouldn't be the game at its best.

Some have criticized the game for turning players into zombies, who stalk the streets staring blankly at their phones, hoping to capture virtual animals. My first brush with Pokemon Go conjured up similar feelings. I spent a weekend in a forest three hours from Tokyo, no internet access available. When I returned to the capital, I noticed everyone near me was staring down at their smartphone, playing Pokemon Go, which had just been released. They didn't seem particularly aware of their surroundings.

But in Tokyo, at least, it already felt like this was the case before Pokemon Go. I've walked into plenty of people glued to Instagram or checking their email. Pokemon Go is just a new program for suit-clad workers to stare at while on their daily commute. And though I haven't seen any social revolution, I have witnessed groups of friends out and about, enjoying the game.

Whether being received excitedly or with annoyance, it will be interesting to see if Pokemon Go is just a passing fad or something more substantial. Already, players have become frustrated at Niantic, the game's maker, for removing certain elements from the game and not talking to users about it via social media. For all the talk of what a paradigm shift it is, it's completely possible users will get tired of it soon and move on to whatever the next buzzed-about app is.

I'll be watching from the sidelines, though. It's way too hot to be out and about Tokyo throwing digital balls at digital mice. Maybe come the fall, I'll be more willing to give it a shot, but at the moment I'm more likely to give Angry Birds another whirl.

ゾンビの侵略

「ポケモンGO」にはまだ手を出していない筆者だが、熱中する人の気持ちが分からないではない。何を隠そう、筆者は少し前、別のゲームアプリ「アングリーバード」にどはまりしていたのだ。

The Japan Times ST: August 26, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2018年6月1日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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