Don’t Cross The Pokémon Go Picket Line

Don’t Cross The Pokémon Go Picket Line
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

Yes, people still play Pokémon Go. In fact, I’m currently in competition with a neighbour over claiming the gym down the street. But today, I’m holding off on logging on in solidarity with #PokémonNoDay.

Niantic recently announced that it would be rolling back some of the pandemic-friendly features it introduced to help players keep engaging with their pocket monsters. The developer had increased the radius within Pokémon Go for interacting with Pokéstops and points of interest. The changes made playing the game easier when we were all told to focus on distancing ourselves from others.

Over time, players realised that these features also made Pokémon Go more accessible for various other players silently excluded from the game. For instance, Trainers (what players are called in the game) with disabilities could more easily hit those stops without, say, climbing stairs that weren’t available to them or taking a wheelchair down unaccommodating streets and roads.

Trainers with autism or sensory conditions could interact within comfortable distances rather than forcing themselves to cluster with strangers, an act that can be overwhelming for those triggered by large crowds and the noise that comes with it. Trainers with young kids, myself included, also benefitted from the changes. It’s already a slog trying to hit Pokéstops while pushing a 18 kg stroller around the suburbs, but this made my rounds with the munchkin a little more fun.

The increase in radius benefits non-players of Pokémon Go, too. It helps ensure that players don’t crowd around businesses, places of worship, private property, and playgrounds with Pokéstops and gyms. The worst thing about Pokémon Go is when the online mobile game becomes a nuisance to the outside world. At least with the distance increases, this makes the game a little more subtle and less disruptive.

The #PokémonNoGo protest is purely a grassroots effort from the community, which is expressing concern for the distance decrease as the covid-19 delta variant has become more widespread. Niantic hasn’t done much to address its players since announcing the rollback in June, despite a massive Change.org petition and numerous complaints on Reddit. Niantic did introduce some new Pokémon from the Nintendo Switch release of Sword and Shield, though some are labelling it as an effort to entice players away from a complete boycott.

Pokémon Go players are frustrated. Even though many players will likely return to the game after the day of protest — myself included — it’s become clear that Niantic doesn’t care about making its game more accessible. Whether Niantic will buckle remains to be seen, but this is a defining moment in the game’s history — one that might turn some players off forever.