The release of the wildly popular app PokemonGO has sparked a plethora of think pieces since its release in the UK just over a week ago. These think pieces follow the familiar theme that young people are ignorant, apathetic, and more concerned with catching Pokemon than with the plight of Syrian refugees (for example) or even that PokemonGO somehow signals the end of society as we know it (though the sort of people espousing those views think everything is the end of the world.) I actually applaud the refugee campaign, and think it is a great example of using popular culture to increase awareness of an important issue. I also have found discussion surrounding the implications of playing PokemonGo as a person of colour fascinating. However, I fundamentally disagree with the logic that caring about Squirtle and caring about Syria are mutually exclusive.
What continues to frustrate me is the constant portrayal of my generation as ignorant, lazy, and glued to our phones. PokemonGO is a fun app, when used sensibly, and gives people who may need it a reason to get out of the house and go for a walk. People with anxiety or depression, for example. Young people have been historically chastised for not going outside enough. Now, young people are going outside to catch pokemon with friends, walking two, five, or even ten kilometres to hatch pokemon eggs and we’re being criticised for playing the game that’s enabling this. I’m making lots of friends through the game, and even planning a trip to meet up with fellow pokemon trainers I knew before the release of the game to catch pokemon with them. (Ok I know that does sound a little sad but how’s it any different to meeting up with friends to go to the cinema or play video games?) Not only that, but if something makes somebody happy and harms nobody then I fail to see how it’s anyones business.
The criticism of PokemonGO is just the latest in a rich history of ‘anti-millennial’ think pieces, and I wanted to use my platform with the University of Leicester to stick up for my generation a little. Remember last year when we were all mocked for pouring buckets of ice on our head and dismissed as band-wagon jumping slactavists? Well it raised over $100 million in under a month and has funded the discovery of a new gene related to ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease which could have huge implications for future treatment of the disease. Last December the Project for Awesome, an annual fundraising drive targeted at the YouTube fan community raised over $1,500,000 which was distributed to multiple charities. Now in its seventh year, this is not the first time P4A has raised over $1,000,000 and awareness for charitable causes. Finally, charities such as World Merit are doing incredible things to mobilise young people and inspire them to become passionate about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, just check out #WorldMeritDay16 on social media if you want to feel more positive about young people across the world. We’re not all whiney or entitled, and some millennials like me know the value of hard work. At points during university, I’ve worked four jobs. However, no matter how hard I work I’m still more likely than my parent’s generation to be underemployed or living in rented accommodation.
In short, it’s good to have discussions about the possible negative implications of any new popular form of entertainment. However, what’s not good is dismissing something you don’t understand simply because young people enjoy it. Young people on the internet do catch charmander, make silly memes, and watch YouTubers put sharpie on their face in the name of charity. A large proportion of us also care passionately about current affairs and global issues, and regularly contribute to campaigns which raise millions for charity.
P.S. I hear rumours University of Leicester Halls are a PokemonGO Gym, so I’ll see some of you there for a match.
P.P.S. I know you’ve got to catch them all but don’t Pokemon and Drive folks.