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Dubai Abulhoul: The Pokemon Go phenomenon
July 17, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Pokemon Go, the smartphone game that has taken the world by storm, was launched last week by Niantic and The Pokemon Company. It’s a location-based smartphone game that allows users to “catch” and “train” Pokemon using augmented reality, which is a form of technology that integrates digital information and graphical elements into the real world. Within a few days of its release, Pokemon Go became the third best-selling game in history, behind only Super Mario and Tetris. The game currently has more users than Twitter, and Nintendo’s stocks rose up to 20% in the past few days alone.

The viral way in which the app spread among the youth in our country, as well as the world, sparked an online debate on the dangers of ‘Pokemon Go’. As a millennial, I have found the criticism of the phenomenon rather amusing, and highly exaggerated to say the least. Attacks on the smartphone game included privacy concerns, yet every location-based application downloaded on smartphones, including Google Maps, have similar, if exactly not the same, terms and conditions as Pokemon Go does. I agree, however, that there definitely needs to be a conversation on where and how to play the game, and how far users should go in their quests of ‘catching Pokemon’. Regardless of where we stand in this debate, we cannot deny the impact and influence the app has had on the youth. We can all agree, on a basic level, that Pokemon Go has done a nearly impossible task, which is capturing the attention, and complete focus, of the youth in the way that it has, and in the short amount of time that it did. I am not interested in the content of the game, what I am trying to shift your attention to is the way that the application has managed to attract the minds of the younger generations in our country, and worldwide, in a very unprecedented manner. Why are the youth attracted to the game, and how can we approach and study that attraction in a more productive, innovative way? What is the viral interest telling us about the future of the gaming industry, and the potential young entrepreneurs have in entering that specific field?

If we choose to look at the debate through a more innovative lens, far away from all the exaggerated dangers and concerns that were voiced in the past few days, we can conclude more than one positive observation from the phenomenon and a few productive steps we can take forward. There is a clear interest in the gaming industry from the youth in our country, so why don’t we provide a platform to cultivate their talents and leverage on their untapped potential? The gaming industry in our country is almost non-existent, and we are yet to see an Emirati gaming company that competes on an international level in the global gaming market. Analysts have predicted that the global gaming market will soon reach a net worth of $91 billion, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Given the obvious interest, and our country’s focus on innovation, it is the right time to venture into the gaming industry. Game developing workshops can also be introduced as extracurricular activities in high schools, national gaming competitions can be hosted, and a fund dedicated to this industry can also be set up for young entrepreneurs as well. Contrary to popular belief, gaming does come with its own social and scientific benefits as well.
Studies have shown that video games, when used in moderation, help children develop logical, literary, and social skills. It has also been scientifically proven that video games can improve balance in MS sufferers, can help address autism, and help people overcome dyslexia. We need to stop looking at the phenomenon as simply an addictive smartphone game, and start thinking about how we can creatively and productively take advantage of the buzz surrounding it.

The younger generation might be too busy catching Pokemon, but stakeholders and society have the collective responsibility of catching a few other things as well: the youth’s interest, their attention, and their untapped potential. Pokemon doesn’t need to Go anywhere, but orthodox approaches in dealing with the new trends certainly do.
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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer

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