Pokemon Go: Has the world lost its mind?

Sabrina Maddeaux

Gamers play Pokemon Go in Ottawa's Confederation Park.

Gamers play Pokemon Go in Ottawa's Confederation Park.

North America has been invaded. It’s not the Russians or North Koreans– it’s much, much worse. Pokémon has taken over and forced millions of people to succumb to a zombie-like state, seeming to wander around aimlessly with their heads buried in their phones.

Since its release last week, the insanely popular Pokémon Go app already boasts over 75 million downloads and revenue of approximately $1.6 million U.S. per day. It leaves Instagram, WhatsApp, Tinder and Snapchat in the dust when it comes to average usage time.

The game uses phones’ GPS systems and cameras to create an augmented reality where players can capture, collect and battle virtual Pokémon while exploring the real world.

A flurry of bizarre, and often entertaining, headlines have accompanied the app’s rise to popularity. Someone discovered a dead body while using the app. Washington D.C.’s Holocaust Museum had to publicly ask people to stop trying to catch virtual monsters inside the museum. Enterprising criminals are luring unsuspecting victims with promises of Pokémon, and there are online classified listings for professional Pokémon Go trainers who will play your app while you’re at work/the gym/sleeping.

Masses of players, looking more like lemmings than functional human beings, are terrorizing businesses and mislabelled private homes in their quest to become Pokémon masters. If the app showed elusive Pokémon bird Articuno at the bottom of a cliff, at least one person would certainly fall to their death.

Has the world lost its mind? In a way, yes. As the real world becomes an uglier and harder place to live in due to economic downturns, broken political systems and terrorist threats, we’ve increasingly sought to avoid reality. We’ve gone crazy for nostalgia (hello, Buzzfeed listicles about the best ‘90s lunchboxes) and we now communicate with small cartoon emoticons. We frequent theme restaurants where we pretend to reside in tiki bars or Harry Potter’s wizarding world for hours at a time.

The most effective way of avoiding the physical world, though, occurs when we can combine fantasy with reality. This allows us to have the best of both worlds: we can ignore the ugliness that surrounds us without feeling like we’ve completely checked out. We can envision our world as a better place.

This is, in part, why reality TV continues to dominate the airwaves. When we watch it we don’t only distract ourselves from daily problems; we imagine our own lives could be less boring, more extravagant or more romantic. Pokémon Go taps into the same sense of escapism and romanticism. It uses augmented reality to give users a sense of purpose, magic and community that so many people lack.

It’s a psychological coping mechanism to turn to fantasy and avoidance when confronted with stressful, seemingly impossible situations. The problem is, watching the Kardashians and hunting down Squirtle isn’t doing anything to solve the many problems facing us. There’s nothing wrong with fun and games, but eventually we will have to face the world we live in.