University of Utah City & Metropolitan Planning Assistant Professor Ivis Garcia Zambrana compares the original 1990s Pokémon gamers who played from their couches in the suburbs to the same generation, now living as urban dwellers and members of the back-to-the-city movement. “This game is a reflection of our changing mentality towards urbanity.” Zambrana argues the game creator’s bias toward cities over rural environments.
“Our thinking about urbanity has changed. In the 1800s cities were rare, strange, and overwhelming places that brought about the rise of industry, capitalism, and ‘all bad things,’” said Zambrana. The return to the suburbs in the latter half of the 21st century was a return of the ideals of closer families and beautiful scenery. “Natural settings are beautiful, but you won’t catch a Pokémon out there.”
Today, the map is shifting again as more Americans are living in cities than rural areas. “The back-to-the-city movement celebrates our differences, diversity, excitement, and higher quality of life. The message is a very clear representation of a generation that cities have a better quality of life from all this diversity.”
Pokémon monsters meet with city dwellers at the intersection of public health and city planning. “From a walkability standpoint, many people are discovering more about their cities in the past week than last year,” says Zambrana. Gamers are encouraged to walk for miles and to view the city as a playground. “Also the story puts you as the protagonist in your own life.”
Pokémon GO also disrupts patterned walking routes and social norms. “People are very habitual with walking patterns, and this game forces people to go to places they have never been before, adding spontaneity and engagement with the city.” Additionally, Pokémon GO offers a sub culture of the urban environment, which has the potential to increase the sociability of a given area.
“Pokémon GO represents a shift of thinking how we as a society are pushing towards urbanity. We are celebrating urbanity as a society with less alienation of individuals.”
Article and images by Ashley Babbitt, MSC; PR Specialist at the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning