Culture July 17, 2016

Pokemon Go Becomes First Digital Weed

While Nintendo’s shares have gone through the roof thanks to the undisputed record breaking success of Pokemon Go, there’s been some hectic fallout surrounding what may be the world’s first digital drug.

Its launch exploded with such ferocity that every corner of every online sphere has been blinded for over a week now. Within mere hours its download numbers laid waste to just about every other app out there. Giants such us Twitter aren’t expected to hold their thrones atop the download lists for much longer. Even “porn” got pimp slapped into submission by now only being the second most searched for subject.


Not since those good ol’ pre-interwebs days in the 90s has Pokemon been such a popular craze. Barely a boy or girl across the globe was immune to wanting to “catch ’em all”. It was a beautiful time when many schools banned the card game due to cooked up conspiracies of it being an occult thing that just one game of would inevitably conclude in kids blowing their brains out before breakfast the next day. Ooooh, how adults loved to hate this cultural phenomena, something that most likely fuelled youthful inquiring minds of the time.

Pokemon turned out to be just another one of those pop-cult moments in history that an ageing generation couldn’t get their heads around, so they declared it the Devil’s work. It didn’t take long though before Pokemon cards found their place alongside the baggies of weed and N.W.A albums, squirreled away in bedrooms every where. Then we all grew up a bit and Pokemon, as well as its taboo peers, normalised to the point of becoming a bit boring.

And then kablam! It struck back bigger and better than ever. Defying the mere limitations of reality as we’ve pretty much always known it; the age of digital augmentation is now upon us. We’ve already altered our perceptions of reality for millennia by organic means and, more recently, by refined chemicals. So while the desired effects are now achieved through a cybernetic interface, the problems that have arisen are not unique. There’s been widely reported baited robberies, dead bodies and traffic accidents in what appears to be a case of the media holding its breath for that first real death caused by a reckless Pikachu hunter, too immersed in his phone to dodge that cliff, car or criminal.

I need only look at the local public park, that a friend is over the moon about being a PokemonGo Gym, and can’t help but wonder how long until something goes just wrong enough to raise the haters from their slumber. That impressive Bulbasaur of hers won’t be any help fending off the very real rapists and muggers that park is best known for, while other destinations are experiencing the adverse effect of being flooded by people each embarking on their own Ash Ketchum inspired quests. Something that we only need wait so long to see monetised into rare Pokemon being used as destination attractions. Think only being able to catch a McMew at your local golden arches.

This to me is what captures so many of the cultural characteristics of weed in a digital medium. Going on a mission to score a bit of happiness that would likely be your first and only experience into the shallow end of altering reality. Something with a low emotional entry point and an easy learning curve that won’t leave you pawning your TV to fund your habit.

So even though I don’t believe in any of that gateway drug theory bullshit, it doesn’t take much to see PokemonGo’s most striking similarity to the analog world of weed. It’s now the equivalent of that first mainstream immersion into what will certainly be only the first item on the menu of personal satisfaction options on the digital horizon.

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