Can games like Pokemon Go cure digital zombies?

  • Despite pervasive digital connectivity, loneliness is a growing issue
  • Videogames like Pokemon Go could increase our social interactions
Can games like Pokemon Go cure digital zombies?

THERE is now a plague of zombies worldwide - digital zombies. You see them almost everywhere and are clearly identifiable. Men, women and children so addicted to their smartphones and tablets that they forget their surroundings. Whether they are in a cafe or public transport, they rarely make eye contact with fellow human beings or acknowledge the presence of others.
Is this the future of a highly technological human society? A planet plagued by digital zombies.
In her book, Alone Together, MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle, describes new, unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents and children due to the proliferation of 'smart' devices. At the threshold of what Turkle calls “the robotic moment,” she prompts us to recall that we have human purposes on this planet that go beyond addiction to technology.  
Sherry Turkle says technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we face a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we conduct “risk free” affairs on Second Life and confuse the scattershot postings on a Facebook wall with authentic personal interactions.
She points out that technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. In other words, we go through life like zombies addicted to our precious devices.
You can see her perceptive TED talk below.


We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, constant communication via Whatsapp, Facebook Live, Twitter or any other blooming instant message networks, leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void, but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.
Recent research indicates that this loneliness may be the next biggest public health issue on par with obesity and substance abuse.  It increases mortality by 26 percent.
The Church Urban Fund and the Church of England found a rise of 10 per cent in the last three years in clergy members who felt that social isolation is a major problem.
This is a very bleak vision of society. But is it possible for the same technologies to improve the human emotional condition?
Could one of these technologies be augmented reality (AR)?
AR is currently one of the buzzwords in videogames. One of the hottest games to hit the market recently is an AR game - Pokemon Go. There is very little doubt now that Pokemon Go will go down in gaming history as a trend setter. According to Sensor Tower, since its release, the game has already earned US$200 million.
At the DICE Europe conference in Barcelona recently, Unity Technologies CMO, Clive Downie, predicted that in the next 10 years, the number of people interacting with virtual reality on a daily basis will touch one billion. And most of those people will be using AR - the same as Pokemon Go. According to Tim Sweeney of Epic Games, "AR will be the biggest technological revolution in our lifetimes."
If AR does become as big as the predictions, will it improve human society or exacerbate the current problem of digital zombies?
AR games mix gaming devices (not just smartphones) and real-world locations to create a 'mixed' reality experience. While Pokemon Go is currently played on smartphones and GPS-enabled tablets, the next wave of AR applications will run on smart glasses like Microsoft's HoloLens or the yet-to-be-seen device from Magic Leap.
One of the reasons why Pokemon Go is so popular is the sense of community that it encourages. This community is not just an online one. From London's Trafalgar Square to Malaysia's Twin Towers, Pokemon Go fans have created chaos in their rush to grab rare Pokemons.

As the survey chart below shows, the single biggest gameplay feature liked by Pokemon Go fans is their ability to play with friends and family members.

Can games like Pokemon Go cure digital zombies?

See the video below to witness a Pokemon Go hysteria in New York's Central Park.


This feeling of community also extends online. On Facebook, SnapChat and other social networks, there is a thriving Pokemon Go community that is always eager to help other fans get rare Pokemons and share fighting tips.
Can this feeling of community and friendship be replicated in other AR games?
It is quite likely that this will happen. To begin with, AR games absolutely require the players to interact with the world around them and with real people.
Unlike interacting with Facebook or Twitter 'friends' whom you have never met, AR applications like Pokemon Go require you to get away from your seat or living room. This alone would mark a major step away from the lifestyle of the digital zombie.
Secondly, as the world has discovered via the antics of Pokemon Go fans, the entire landscape becomes a vast playground. Cafes, theatres, private gardens and places of worship are fair game for an AR application.
With such a huge variety of locations to visit, it is almost inevitable that the players will end up interacting with complete strangers - the perfect antidote to the digital zombie virus. Therefore, AR and games like Pokemon Go could remove the pervasive feeling of loneliness in a highly connected world. We could finally end up with a society where people do not have to give up their cherished 'smart' devices and at the same time suffer the side effects of their technological addiction.
Related Stories:
Will lack of AAA games hurt VR gaming?
The dark side of online gaming
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