September 22, 2019

Pokémon Go: One More Sign of Decline

You can see them walking singly, in pairs, or in large groups, moving like zombies, looking down at their cell phones as if in a trance. They cross lawns and driveways, step into moving traffic, roam through parks and college campuses, and enter stores, libraries, even churches. They are not zombies but devotees of the latest game craze, Pokémon Go.

Developed by Niantic and partly owned by Nintendo, Google, and others, Pokémon Go was introduced in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand on July 6, 2016 and then in other countries. The game is played on cell phones, its purpose to “locate, capture, battle, and train virtual creatures” that appear on one’s phone in real-life places.

In its first two months its revenues topped several hundred million dollars worldwide. In the United States alone an estimated 9.5 million people play it daily.

I had my first encounter with Pokémon Go gamesters in mid-August at a county-owned North Carolina resort with 1100 acres of rolling green lawns, wooded areas lined with walking paths, tennis courts, a large pool, and a picnic area. At the center of the property are a large manor house, several cottages, and a lovely garden.

For the four days I was there I observed hundreds of Pokémon Go devotees wandering around the grounds during daylight hours, and more than a few long after dark. Others conducted their search for creatures by car, driving about five miles an hour and slowing the pace of other drivers. Guests staying at the resort seemed to view the people with puzzlement, annoyance, or both.

The situation in other places has reportedly been more bizarre. While searching for the creatures, one Pokémon Go player got caught in a tree in a cemetery. Another got distracted and drove into a police car. Two men fell off a cliff. A New York man fell into a pond. Players nearly caused stampedes while chasing the imaginary creatures in Taiwan and New York City’s Central Park. And a Japanese man who was playing the game while driving a car hit and killed a pedestrian.

Think of the time that is being wasted on this game, time that could be spent more profitably, such as in learning a new language or subject, taking music lessons, volunteering for the Red Cross or Special Olympics, visiting a children’s hospital or nursing home, or searching the records of candidates to decide which ones are best suited for office in the forthcoming elections.

The Pokémon Go craze is one example, among many, of the cultural decline that is threatening the future of America and, more broadly, western civilization. The Roman poet Juvenal described a similar distraction that led to the fall of the Roman Empire:

… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions—everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.

In the case of Rome, the government gained the support of the people by giving them food and entertainment. As a result, the people became contented, slothful, and neglectful of their responsibilities as citizens. Today the government, mass culture, and technological innovation have combined to produce the same result more powerfully and quickly.

Governmental welfare programs have created a growing sense of entitlement and stoked feelings of envy for those perceived to be more favored. Mass culture has denigrated self-discipline and self-mastery and promoted instead self-absorption and self-indulgence. And technological innovation has offered an expanding array of devices and activities that provide enjoyment.

As the impact of these three forces is more widely felt, people will be less and less concerned about understanding the problems facing our society, listening closely to the proposals for solving them, and supporting the most promising ones. Accordingly, they will be increasingly vulnerable to political candidates who offer pleasant sounding but empty promises, government will grow less responsive to real needs, and the decline of the country, indeed of western civilization, will proceed apace.

Copyright © 2016 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
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