By now you’re probably well aware of Pokémon Go. It became so popular that it’s likely to go down as one of the defining features of summer 2016. With the download of an app, buildings suddenly turned into ‘Poké-stops’ and the landscape became filled with a myriad of virtual creatures for you to catch.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t join in the fun. As a child of the 90s I grew up with Pokémon. Add to the mix that I had a massive passion for nature and it’s not hard to see why a game centred around collecting wildlife became a big part of my childhood.
But don’t worry, this weeks’ column isn’t going to be devoted to animals of an imaginary realm. You see, there has been lots of fervent discussion as to whether Pokémon Go is a good thing, particularly for children. Is it motivating kids to get outside? Or is it just encouraging them to spend yet more time staring at a screen by encouraging them to do it outdoors too? Can it really be healthy that they might care more about Bulbasaurs than butterflies, or Pikachus than plants?
It’s a tricky one, and the answer probably falls somewhere in the middle, but something I witnessed over the summer holidays gives me hope that the natural world and the virtual one can work in harmony.
My family and I had decided to head into the Peaks on one of those blazing summer days that seems to pull people into the outdoors with an almost gravitational force. My two cousins were joining us on our trip to Padley Gorge, and at eight and 11 years old they are the prime age to have been sucked headlong into the Poké-vacuum. I’m not even sure we’d left the car park before the phones were out with eyes glued to them as they hunted for things that didn’t exist. It was like this for the next half an hour, shouts of excitement as a Staryu appeared or a gym’s Pidgeot was defeated, while all around us lay the ignored splendour of the Peak District. As we entered into the gorge itself though, something changed. The youngest Tom was the first to realise there was more enriching fun to be had. He handed his mum her phone back and went careering off down the path that snaked through the woodland, leaping across the giant rounded boulders that stuck through the earthy surface like the sunken eggs of giant rock dinosaurs.
His sister Alice, was next. Her phone was relegated to her pocket as thoughts of virtual creatures were lost amongst the power of nature’s primal pull. They spent the rest of the day climbing trees, scaling boulders and cooling off in the icy river, just as all the other kids there were doing.
So while it seems depressing to me that we now have hordes of children seemingly only heading outside to find computer-generated wildlife, at least they’re actually heading outside. I believe that every child has that instinctive desire to have fun in the outdoors within them. If it takes Pokémon Go to get them to the outdoors, then fine. Once there, I trust that nature can do the rest.