By IRIS RIDDELL.

Hi, I’m Iris and I’m a Pokémon Go fanatic.

That fact is hardly surprising – as a nostalgic, bleeding heart millennial in my mid-twenties, with a penchant for all things geeky, I am the poster girl for Niantic’s primary target audience.

Of course, I’ve read the bad stuff about the game online – over-zealous Pokémon hunters spraining ankles, walking into traffic, pedestrians, finding bodies (yikes) – but the good stuff warms my heart. Connections formed between strangers, the link between the game and improving mental health, people exploring their environments and getting exercise… the list goes on.

I’m sure you’ve been reading about all these things, too. It’s impossible to take two clicks online without stumbling upon a Pokémon Go article.

I’m a solid mid-range Pokémon player – I’m level 16 right now. I’ve hunted a Vaporeon with other YoPros down on Wynyard Quarter after work, dashed out into the dark drizzle of an Auckland evening clutching an umbrella to walk the remaining few hundred metres to hatch an egg (got a Paras. Meh) and discussed the various intricacies and strategies of using candies and stardust with the lovely folks at Barista Cats Café downtown (who offered a discount for Pokémon trainers, so, win!). Every night before bed I spend a soothing few minutes sorting and naming the day’s catches.

I love the game for many reasons: it’s fun. It harkens back to happy childhood memories. It injects a little happiness into my 20-minute walk between work and the bus stop. I’ve met up with friends specifically to go hunting together, usually winding up in a cosy cafe to beat the cold.

But I wonder if the game could be used for something more – could we use it as an engine for good? Already we’ve seen it act as social glue to gather hundreds of Pokéfans in a space – I know for a fact that Mission Bay and the Auckland Domain are pumping with players almost every night, despite not getting out there myself thus far. Memorial Park in Hamilton, I am reliably told, is also thronging nightly with Poképlayers.

What if players were to equip themselves with trash bags when they hit the streets en masse, to collect rubbish while they collect Pokémon? Or wandered up and down Queen Street with bags stocked with food to feed to homeless people? How could it be used to form communities of healing for those with mental illness? I see here an opportunity – an online community that can be mobilised to do great stuff, in return for a couple of digital critters on a smartphone screen.

I know I’m not alone in asking these questions and I would like to throw the invitation out to you – how do we use this game, this social phenomenon, to achieve change?

It’s already happening. I’ve signed up for a beach clean at Takapuna in August, and noticed someone in the Auckland group bribing – I mean encouraging – people to sign up to collect for Daffodil Day, offering to put lures on nearby Pokéstops for the volunteers. There’s a popular post online from a dog rescue centre in Indiana, which has had an amazing response from trainers wanting excuses to go for a walk – they’ve seen a massive increase in volunteers and all their dogs have been adopted in record time.

I’m also looking forward to hanging out with fellow Pokémon trainers from across New Zealand at Festival for the Future at the Aotea Centre in September. There’s a Pokéstop at the venue, a prime hunting ground directly outside on Aotea Square, and a nearby gym at the Metro Centre. I’m expecting a mini-tournament or two to break out in-between speaker sessions and workshops… and who will snag the best Pokémon catch of the weekend? (I caught a Ponyta nearby not so long ago, but I’m sure somebody can do better).

The socialisation aspect of Pokémon Go fascinates me. There is next to no social infrastructure built into the game – no sharing buttons for Facebook or Twitter, no functionality for adding friends, no trading or PvP battling – this last one is a shame as it’s such a staple of the franchise, although there are whispers in the dark that this will be added in due time.

Getting back to the point however, the incredible social bonding power of this game has come purely from the fan base. Facebook groups popped up like daisy fields, offering support, tips and tricks, learning and collaborating and figuring out the mechanics together, city by city, town by town. Nationwide walks are cropping up, organised by locals.

Millennials get a pretty bad rap sometimes, but I have a huge amount of faith in my generation to be a force for good.

 

Visit www.livethedream.org.nz for more information on the Live the Dream programme. Applications close August 10. Visit www.festivalforthefuture.org.nz for more information on this national event, taking place on 23-25 September at Auckland’s Aotea Centre.

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