Pokémon Go: It’s Awesome! It’s Stupid! It’s…Causing Conflicts

She: “Put your phone away right. Now.

He: “Are you kidding me? There’s a PokeStop with a lure at the Gap!”

She: “I swear to God, we are leaving if you keep this up.”

He: “Why? It takes five seconds to collect things at a stop and, like, another ten seconds tops to catch a Pokémon, and I can do that while you’re looking at skirts or something. That’s boring for me, too.”

She: “Auuuuuuuuuuuuughhhhhhhhhhh!”

Did you think that was a dialogue between a mother and son? Nah. It was two grown adults who appeared to be in their thirties, walking through a lovely outdoor outlet mall on a sunny day.

It’s been just ten days since the 150 Pokémon of the Apocalypse were loosed upon an unsuspecting world, and in that brief period of time, the media has overflowed with stories of cars crashing into stationary objects, people crossing barricades and falling off cliffs, and stampedes in New York City’s Central Park, all because people are going outside, alone or in groups, walking all over the place to chase invisible monsters with a smartphone app.

Healthy Outdoor Active Fun or the Actual Fall of Western Civilization?

Comment sections about these news stories predictably take approximately 13 seconds to devolve into the kind of hyperbolic rage-fest that allonline comment threads inevitably devolve into.

But a more interesting question about Pokémon Go—the first wildly successful Augmented Reality (AR) game, but certainly not the last—is encapsulated in the interpersonal interchange between the couple wandering through the mall.

There will be more of these games. And they won’t be limited to phones. They’ll likely be embedded in the next generation of wearable technology, like Google Glass. We have no idea what lies ahead, but the rapid adoption of a simple, primitive, toy-like application by more users than Twitter in less than a week tells me that there’s no avoiding the AR wave. It’s coming. And that means something serious for relationships.

Unless entire families, groups of friends, and/or workplaces opts in or out of AR together…oh, goodness.

There will be conflicts.

For now, those who opt in enjoy Pokémon Go. They embrace it as a perfectly harmless, enjoyable, even addictive pastime that gets them outside, meeting new people, cooperating and collaborating with strangers on a shared mission, having tiny adventures. Parents of more than one autistic child have said it’s transformed how they interact with the world.

Meanwhile, those who opt out say Pokémon Go is a danger to life and limb, a potential privacy nightmare, “the stupidest thing I have ever seen,” and a threat to property, not to mention downright disrespectful, offensive and annoying to others.

So who’s right?

leadership training pokemon go“But There’s an Eevee Around Here!” Are There Needs or Values in Conflict?

Here’s the thing: When a player enjoying a few virtual moments trying to catch an imaginary monster is having a conflict about the game with a person who’s annoyed by that…like, for instance, in the mall?

The Pokémon player isn’t necessarily wrong, and the Pokémon agnostic isn’t always right.

Yes, really.

When there’s a real, genuine, serious, relationship-troubling conflict that needs to be solved, somebody’s needs aren’t being met. A player and a non-player who are walking around a mall together this week are essentially wandering through two different worlds than they were last week. The non-player sees the same old storefronts and fountains and landmarks that have always been there; the player sees massive numbers of PokeStops, which dispense the balls needed to catch monsters in the game, and other items as well. For free! (That’s because fountains and landmarks and malls are chock-full of these things; it’s a technicality of the map database the game was built on.)

Now. Does a player need to play? Clearly, the answer is no.

And, does the non-player need the non-player’s absolute undivided attention for every second of a walk through the mall? Here, too, most reasonable people would answer no. So what we have here is a values collision. The player would rather be playing for a few minutes in a target-rich environment (it’s a lot better environment for playing than home on the sofa). The non-player would rather the player not be playing at all in his or her presence.

There are several ways to work out this values collision, but using the six most negative forms of communication roadblocks are going to be particularly destructive. As a refresher, those are:

  • Ordering, directing, commanding (Put your phone away right now.)
  • Warning, admonishing, threatening (We’re leaving if you don’t stop that.)
  • Moralizing, preaching, imploring (You’re a grown wo/man. Think about your life choices!)
  • Persuading with logic, lecturing, arguing (Do you know how many people have been fired/fallen off cliffs/been mugged because of that game?)
  • Judging, criticizing, disagreeing, blaming (You can’t enjoy the outdoors without looking at your phone? I can go for a walk without a game to motivate me!)
  • Name-calling, ridiculing, shaming (What are you, nine years old?)

But What If There Are Needs Not Being Met and A Real Conflict?

All fun must be set aside for serious things, of course, and a hot new augmented-reality game obviously takes a back seat to real reality.

If the couple strolling through the mall had been on a one-hour lunchtime mission to find a wedding gift for friends, for example, then his game-playing—even just a few seconds to spin a wheel at a PokeStop and stock up on more balls and raspberries—would have been legitimately interfering with her needs: to get to a particular store, find what they were shopping for, and get out of the mall within their agreed-upon time frame.

In that case, she’d have owned the problem, and she could have handled the situation constructively with a well formed I-message. Not a communication roadblock.

It’s Not the End of the World as We Know It; It’s Just a Game

Despite earnest warnings to the contrary about every single one of them at the time, flagpole sitting, goldfish swallowing, Zoot suits, the Twist, Elvis, Beatlemania, lava lamps and streakers didn’t bring down civilization; it’s probably a safe bet that two years from now, something else will have grabbed the attention of millions of people who are having fun with it and simultaneously brought in business to chiropractors because of all the vigorous head-shaking from millions of others. And more comment threads will be full of violent disagreements about What It All Means. And more families and couples will be arguing about whether It’s the coolest thing ever! or It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.

Keep your values collision resolution tools in your back pocket next to your phones, everybody.

It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

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