Pokémon Go and Reality

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Pokémon Go is realer than most of your life.

René Descartes, that guy who said “I think, therefore I am,” believed in two forms of reality: formal and objective.

Formal reality is what most of us just call “reality”. It’s all the shit you can prove exists with the senses. Things that actually exist outside of the mind. But existence, at least to Descartes, doesn’t make one thing realer than another.

“I think, therefore, I am the realest nigga in this shit fwm.”

Objective reality is the level of realness something has as a representation of a thing. Ideas (i.e. thoughts, concepts) have this kind of reality. There isn’t a definition of “realness” I can throw at you, but it’s basically how complex the idea is. The idea of God has more reality than Spongebob, for example. There are more aspects of God to understand than Spongebob.

In this way, despite not existing, ideas are real.

There’s a reason for that mini-lecture in philosophy.

Think about theme parks, like Universal Studios or Disneyland. Most of their appeal is in the experience of worlds you have no access to in your daily life. Mickey Mouse can walk past you. You can drink butterbeer at Hogsmeade.

The Universal Studios in Orlando has a phenomenal Wizarding World of Harry Potter area. It now has a full recreation of Diagon Alley, along with Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Express shuttling folks back and forth.

Harry Potter does not exist, and you aren’t going to find out you’re a wizard once you turn 11, kid. But the layers of detail and consistency contained in 7 books and 8 movies about Harry Potter’s world make it much realer to people than most things in their daily lives.

That’s the appeal of animated series, movie characters, and other supposedly unreal things being “brought to life”. These things have been real to us for ages. But now they ACTUALLY exist somewhere!

The more of a fan you are of something like Harry Potter, the stronger your perceived reality of that universe is. Harry Potter is realer to the person who knows the names of all the Hogwarts ghosts than it is to the kinda deaf 65-year-old man who confuses it with Mary Poppins.

When an idea has great objective reality, experiences of these “fake” places leave impressions larger than many “real” ones.

“Fuck it, mom, I’m transferring.”

And here we are now, throwing Pokéballs at Pidgeys in somebody’s front lawn before they flee.

Here we are walking to a nearby restaurant to pick up some items at their PokéStop.

Unlike a theme park, where the faux-existence of alternate worlds are kept in one area, Pokémon Go is an entire world laid on top of the one we live our daily lives in. Like, if a map of Hogwarts was laid over your college campus or something. But a lot bigger.

The eggs you’re about to hatch are right next to your keys in your pocket. That strong ass Vaporeon at your neighborhood gym is posted up at your favorite liquor store. You walk slowly in a playground full of kids looking creepy because there’s a Squirtle nearby.

Bring that ass here, boy

It’d be one thing if this craze was specific to children. But the now-30-something-year-olds that grew up on the first generation of Pokémon are at work, with their kids, driving, and cooking dinner with phones in hand ready to catch all of those motherfuckers.

Of course, objective reality can be addictive. There’s a reason why playing a video game for 12 hours a day, or walking around yelling, “Avada Kedavra!” with a plastic wand are not considered healthy behaviors. Formal and objective reality, in Descartes’ terms, require some kind of balance for each to be fun.


Our imagination, thoughts, and dreams are what influence us to make more out of our surroundings. Likewise, our surroundings can help us make something out of what is real in our heads. Pokémon Go’s world is one that has found a beautiful balance between these two forms of realness.

Since so many people share in their belief of this world, shared experiences through Pokémon Go could do a lot for global culture. At least until people start a revolution over smartphone battery life. That shit goes toooo quick when you’re playing.

Is Pokémon Go revolutionary? A nuisance? Let us know what you think!

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