are trump and brexit behind the popularity of pokémon go?

With rolling news dominated by the doom and gloom of Trump and Brexit, more and more of us are seeking respite in the simpler world of Zubats and Bulbasaurs.

by Matthew Whitehouse
26 July 2016, 11:51pm

Unless you've been living under a Geodude for the past fortnight, you know all about Pokémon Go. The largest mobile game in US history; forty million downloads worldwide; an estimated $1.6 million in revenue per day. It is, in no uncertain terms, a phenomenon, surpassing Twitter and Tinder in active users and flying like a Zubat to the top of App Store revenue charts.

I was away on holiday when Pokémon Go hit the UK. Before I left, spending the entirety of one's time following evasive and difficult to pin down cartoon characters was largely resigned to news of Foreign Secretary appointments or Republican Party primaries. Fast forward a week and Hillary Clinton has name-checked the game in a speech, while Donald Trump has continued the Pokébattle with a new campaign video. Even Jeremy Corbyn has been seen receiving a tutorial on the BBC, the embattled Labour leader distracting himself by hunting for a Krabby, while the rest of his party distracted themselves by hunting for a new leader.

Perhaps distraction is the key here. Launching at the end of an especially violent run of events in theUnited States, Pokémon Go presents us with a simpler world: a well-timed respite from a landscape in which our problems seem to have become so big,and so very complex, it's increasingly difficult to figure out our own experiences within them. Where we lack a sort of"cognitive map" for dealing with, say, the impact of globalisation, the rise of authoritarianism in the U.S., or the economic fallout from Brexit, we gain a literal one for discovering the nearest Rattata. And, within those discoveries, there's nostalgia at play too.

Coming just after the game's 20th anniversary, Pokémon Go falls neatly into pop culture's two-decade nostalgia cycle (see also last Saturday's Grease Night on Channel 4 - the original movie tapping into the mid-1970s appetite for all things 50s). Taking us back to the more innocent - and notably pre-9/11 - time of the franchise's original release, it presents users with a break from the doom and gloom of reality and a retreat into, well, an augmented one. Restoring the element of imagination so sorely missed within the realism heavy framework of today's politics, Pokémon Go acts as pure pop escapism; the kind of utopian space central to notions of liberation since forever.

As Marx and Engels once wrote: "it is possible to achieve real liberation only in the real world and by real means". That may still be true; they just didn't bank on that real world being augmented. 


Text Matthew Whitehouse
Image via Facebook

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