The Pokémon GO phenomenon

Kent Rupert

… and its real-life applicability

Over the summer, a tech application exploded onto the market, only to be downloaded more than 30 million times within the span of three weeks. Pokémon GO became a global phenomenon in short order, with Apple stating the app holds the record for the most first-week downloads ever, and more than 11 per cent of Android users in the U.S. using the app. It has also been cited that the app is estimated to generate more than $750 million in revenue this year.

Even with this unimaginable short-term success, the game is not without its critics. Aside from the classic argument that phone apps (and smartphones in general) are removing its users from reality, some critics are more concerned about etiquette. Between crowds gathering to “catch ‘em all” in cemeteries and memorials, entering library quiet zones to “battle” against opponents, or individuals bumping into one another in busy shopping centres, there is no doubt the Pokémon GO craze has stirred up some emotion in the masses. Despite these criticisms, it can be argued that the game has actually set a precedent as a New-Age way to build community.

In Airdrie, Pokémon GO has brought out the best of what we hope to achieve as a community. First and foremost, the game has brought people together – from multiple generations, creeds, ethnicities, backgrounds – for a common interest. In many cases citizens have banded together to create Pokémon GO meetups, ultimately resulting in real-life conversations with new people. That, in its rawest form, is community building.

The game has also provided an avenue for citizens in Airdrie to discover their own community. From Poke Stops drawing people to places such as City Hall and Airdrie Public Library, to gyms bringing people together at Miller Paint Park, and groups gathering to catch Pokémon at Nose Creek Park, Fletcher Park and  Bayside Commercial, Airdrie citizens are seeing large portions of the city they may not otherwise have visited. While walking through Nose Creek Park I met a middle-aged couple who was exploring and trying to catch these Pokémons; the woman was excited to tell me that she had already walked six kilometres just that day!

Genesis Place has recognized the value of the app in achieving its goals of providing a variety of leisure, recreation and wellness services, opportunities, and programs that enhance the quality of life for residents in and around Airdrie. This was achieved through their recently completed “Gamer Walk,” which sought to bring a group of people together to catch Pokémon by walking throughout the community.

Together, these activities and gatherings contribute to a strong sense of community pride. They create opportunities for Airdrie citizens to be tourists in their own city; to discover new places to love, and at which to gather. They help us tell the story of what makes Airdrie unique, and of areas we could improve upon. The app has assisted in bringing people to businesses they didn’t realize existed, parks they have never been to, civic spaces they may have misunderstood. Most of all, it has brought people together.

Next time you think these apps cause “isolation by phone,” take a second glance, and see the beauty of community-building happening all around you. But remember: it does not need to take an app to explore your community or to connect with a stranger. So if you are chasing computer-generated figures or just exploring our community, get on out there, and discover why you love our city of Airdrie!

(With contributions from Shay Barker)

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