Pokemon Go & Culture Wars

It’s the type of sentence that makes me, a 22 year-old born amid the roaring buzz of the dot-com bubble burst, gag in my throat, close my eyes and shake my head over the keys of my laptop computer.  “Electronic media shuffle us through a myriad of experiences which would have baffled earlier generations” I read in the Foreword to John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks, “and seem to produce in us a strange isolation from the reality of human history.”  Kind of a strong indictment on electronic media, right? It can’t really separate us from the rest of human history, can it?

Of course it doesn’t.  I’m not sure an argument of such extreme nativity can be argued in the era of the social web in 2016, and I’m not sure that’s even close to the main point of what Vine Deloria Jr. was concerned with when penning the Foreword to the book. But the quotation illustrates a difference in values between older generations and the younger, more digitally-embedded one.  Millennial and baby boomers have clashed and will clash again over the importance digital technologies play in our lives, just as they have since the invention of computers and virtual games in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Bill Clinton, the first president  to have sent an email while in the White House, is also famous for how sparingly he used the technology.  His wife is the same wa- never mind.


Many have commented on a video circulating this past weekend of Vietnam veterans acting, frankly, irrationally toward a group of young Pokemon Go players at a war memorial.  The Gamers, to be fair, responded just as obnoxiously, and seem to bear no understanding of the “crazy vet”‘s feelings or emotions.  Their rhetoric is, as objectively as I can fathom, ridiculously immature, and they do themselves no favors in the court of public opinion with the attitudes they display.

Here’s the video if you haven’t taken a look yet. 

Pokemon Go, for all of its revolutionary affordances and procedures, has been a magnet for controversy these past few weeks.  The entire summer has been dominated by the game, which merges traditional gaming interfaces with interactive, real-world travel based upon Google Maps GPS integration.

There are a lot of easy points to be made from even a surface viewing of this confrontation, so I’ll try to avoid the low-hanging fruit here.  Both sides act foolishly, and neither respect the other.  Beneath a surface viewing, very real culture clashes rise to visibility: is playing a videogame, peacefully and quietly (as the subjects filming allege themselves to have been doing) disrespectful?

Is the veteran more upset with the location of their gaming, or with the attention paid to the gaming itself?

I question how the developers of the game determine where Pokestops are located.  Pokestops are generally situated at important landmarks, and players gather around to collectively construct lures and collect the virtual creatures they attract.  In my city of Buffalo, 50+ players gather daily on our Canalside waterfront to play at nearly all hours of day and night.  I count myself among them (1600CP Magmar, boo-yah!), and because our chosen public place (there are ridiculously-enticing Pokemon here) happens to be situated next to a retired warship and various veterans memorials, we oftentimes get stares, snarky comments and even some polite requests to look up from our phones and “embrace the real world around us.”  Is playing Pokemon Go at a memorial mutually exclusive with appreciating the sacrifices made my veterans of all ages, creeds and backgrounds? Do we really that separated from other human beings? I promise, Pokemon Go is about as social of a game as I’ve encountered, and in my experience the game provides a multitude of conversation topics and starters to help meet new friends and acquaintances around town that I would never have met before.

What is the solution to this problem, both on micro and macro levels? There seems to be a generational divide, and neither side seems willing to empathize with the other.

Digital culture, it seems, is increasingly infringing upon what some might call “tradition.”  Video game players are no longer confined to their basements, out of sight and out of mind except for warnings on television programs.

What is it that makes this culture clash so difficult to talk about?

Please, feel free to comment below.

2 thoughts on “Pokemon Go & Culture Wars

  1. vahrkalla says:

    Great post!

    Convention will always affect us without our conscious knowledge. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of onlookers because we cannot retroactively erase understanding of Pokemon Go’s allure and its necessary element of exploration, sometimes onto these sensitive monuments. We cannot just decide to not know why people do this in an effort to think about this objectively. On the other hand, the older generation could try to understand, but then again, why should they have to try when our activity is only gratifying to us?

    We can’t talk about this rationally because one party will inevitably view the activity as ridiculous.


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