When I first downloaded Pokémon Go, I had no expectations. If anything, I was a skeptic, but I caved to my simultaneous psychological desires to retreat to something familiar (video games) and fit in. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and make sure I wasn't missing out.
But once I got beyond the initial novelty of the game and had a handle on the usual stuff like interfacing, it became pretty apparent really fast that what I had in my hands was pretty incredible, way beyond your usual digital escape. It wasn't because of flashy graphics or even the awesome, bigger-than-life generational concept that is Pokémon. It was the way Pokémon Go suddenly was bringing everybody together.
Take my experience at a Poké stop in Ellicott City, Maryland, for example. There were 50, maybe 60 people there. And guess what. Nobody was talking about anybody's race. Nobody was arguing about whether minimum wage should be $15 an hour or whether Trump or H. Clinton should live on Pennsylvania Avenue. We were all just a bunch of people hovering, walking, laughing. For just that little bit of time, equality actually meant something. It was incredible.
Right now in our country, most of us have all we can handle in terms of stress. We work ridiculous hours, try to deal with all kinds of relationship woes, battle with our bills, struggle to maintain good health and, at the end of the day, still have to worry about little things like our stinky garbage. At the same time, the millennial generation (which I'm part of, by the way) is conditioned to expect choice and live with egocentricity. It's basically a recipe for everybody being constantly irritated and never wanting to back down.
Scientifically, it all takes its toll. Constant stress keeps our cortisol levels high, disrupting not only our mood, but physiological processes like metabolism and immune system function, too. The rational parts of our brains literally shut down when stress is elevated, leaving us to function only with hot emotion. That used to be a protective mechanism that let us make split-second decisions and survive in the face of dangerous predators, but today, all it does is stop us from making good choices.
But Pokémon Go could change all that.
This game gets us moving, pumping us full of endorphins that counter our stress. It gets us interacting and enjoying each other again, letting mirror neurons get other feel-good chemicals like oxytocin going. It lets us feel secure and as though we're really part of a pack without having to say another pack is good or bad.
And maybe that's exactly what America biologically needs to stop ripping itself apart.