Pokemon Go is the new hit on all the continents and it raises many questions about the indiscriminate use of this tool. Both in America and in Europe, it is causing many problems and incidents. Some players get injured in an attempt to chase virtual monsters in difficult places or because they play while driving their car. A young man (18) was robbed in Las Vegas while trying to seize a Pokemon in a public park in the middle of the night. It is the second case of this kind in the US, whereas in Germany, the police had to intervene at 4 a.m. to prevent a young person from breaking the door of an elderly lady’s house, where he believed the virtual monsters of the game were hiding. Not to mention the American highway that was blocked by Pokemon seekers.
Let’s see how the whole thing has started: the original idea of the game dates back to 2014, when the Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and Tsunekazu Ishihara, then head of The Pokémon Company, in partnership with Google, have made an April Fool called Pokémon Challenge. It consisted in finding the Pokémon through Google Maps. Then, the idea has gradually grown up to its present form.
Both Apple and Nintendo have reaped economic benefit thanks to in-app purchases, increasing the value of their shares. According to some analyzes, Pokémon Go exceeded – in terms of time spent using the app – than social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Tinder.
We have discussed it with Professor Tonino Cantelmi, Head of the Psychiatry Services IRCSS “Istituto Regina Elena” and “Institute San Gallicano”, university professor at the Institute of Psychology of the Gregorian University and at the Faculty of Human Sciences of LUMSA. Founder of CEDIS, the first Italian National Agency for research and treatment of addiction-related behaviors. Since 1998, he has been working on “internet addiction” and the impact of digital technology on the human mind.
Pokemon Go is an open invitation to travel between the real and virtual worlds where hidden danger?
Augmented reality is a useful and interesting innovation for the inhabitants of this technofluid world. In this case, however, it has been bent by the needs of a society where there is too much gaming. We tend to play games while waiting (in a queue, on a plane, on a train, waiting for someone, you grab your tablet or smartphone and play; but gaming invades also our studies, work, love; we are bent by the logic of gaming). In short, the mix of real and virtual worlds is a matter of fact and augmented reality is useful, but with Pokemon go we reached a ridiculous level of gamization: seeing the cleverly spread images of dazed adults with their eyes glued to their smartphones is really disappointing.
The game uses real places to encourage players to travel to seize the 100 species of Pokemons. Can it trigger uneconomic behavior?
Of course, the logic behind Pokemon go is of commercial nature. It addresses everyone, but especially those who have money to spend, a rare Pokemon in a McDonald pushes players to rush to this place and spend money. But this is just one example of economic exploitation: in fact, revenues worth billions have been already gained from the sale of non-core tools of the app (which is obviously free, like any other bait).
One of warnings is “do not get distracted, Pokemons run away or someone can take them before you”. Professor, can people who play this game develop anxiety issues over the time?
The mix technology-service is an explosive mix. We see this in many fields, such as work, where there is no distinction between day and night, between home and office, between weekdays and holidays. However, using technology for gaming becomes destructive and alienating for many adults.
One can also customize their avatar. What is the extent of the risk one runs of losing sight of one’s own Self and of identifying with the avatar?
Much research has been done on the so-called “Proteus Effect”: players absorb certain parts of the avatar, which over time will change their identity. Thus, on the one hand, we create an avatar according to our needs, whereas on the other hand, the avatar influences our self-perception. Technology influences our cognitive structure, modifies and affects our emotional and affective systems, but above all, it radically changes our social and relational data. Some people think we are on the brink of an anthropological mutation.
In fact, one does not win money nor receive promises – the app itself is free of charge, by the way -. The only promise the game makes to you is that you will feel increasingly smarter after seizing as many Pokemons as possible. How is it possible that this game can influence our self-esteem?
Games are the way in which the third-millennium man challenges himself: through the simulation he experiences, he builds his changing and shifting identities.
One last question: It is a game that allows to control whoever downloads it on a device. Do you think there might be desire to hide ‘a mass psychological manipulation attempt behind a game’?
With digital technology, we are always, constantly monitored: our cell phones communicate our position all the time, each of our network provides access to a huge amount of informations about our tastes. Pokemon go, in most cases, indicates only the level of infantilism of many adults. Harmless, compared to the incredible amounts of digital data about all of us.