The biggest hit of recent days, and the subject of much of the chat on the college corridors, has been Pokémon Go. It’s what everyone seems to be talking about – and it’s not just the students. Actually, there are no students in college this week (apart from potential ones on tours for next term), just the builders finishing off the college facelift and staff undergoing training.
But when it comes to the game that has taken the country by storm, it appears that our progress tutors, support staff and canteen staff can’t get enough. I’m reliably informed that my church is a PokéGym and that the college library has a Pikachu lurking in the reference section.
Fads come and go. Who could forget almost taking someone’s eye out when yo-yos were all the rage? What about Pogs, Tazos and Garbage Pail Kids? I once got into serious trouble with a parent after locking a Tamagotchi in a drawer and carrying on with my lesson while its 13-year-old owner listened to it dying slowly in my desk.
As teachers and educators, we see such passions come in and out of fashion. It used to be hula hoops and skipping; now it’s Pokémon. Same thing, different era.
No doubt, when the learners return in September, they’ll be sneaking out of class to chase a Bulbasaur down the corridor. At least they’re getting some exercise, I suppose. Stories are beginning to emerge that Pokémon Go has not only encouraged players (or trainers, as they are called) to get outdoors but also improved their mood and even helped to combat depression.
I haven’t played it yet, so I don’t know what the effects might be. But even if that’s true for only one or two, it’s got to be a good thing. The game does have its bad side, though. Apparently, in the US, some thieves are hanging out in Pokémon hotspots, simply waiting for distracted smartphone owners to wander past.
Pokémon Go belongs to the genre of games known as augmented reality – real life made better. I’ve written before about the horrors some of our learners experience and I think a bit of escapism is a necessity. It’s not just the students: perhaps staff, too, are in need of distraction, finding comfort in the frivolous silliness of an app.
Of course, I’d love for more of us to seek solace in faith or in sport. It would be great for us to find comfort in community action or campaigning for issues of social justice. But I’m not naive and I suspect that engaging the current younger generation in more worthy pursuits might be a little too much to hope for. So if, for now, the means of distraction is hunting virtual-reality Japanese comic-book creatures in the yogurt aisle at Morrisons, then it’ll have to do. Until something better – or at least newer – comes along.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley