Elegy for Bute Park

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The moment has finally arrived – when gamic reality becomes more inspirational than the beauty of nature. Ancient trees have lost their magic to connect with mankind, even though they constantly illustrate how alive they still are after centuries, through their subtle and elegant dances in the wind. Alas, we no longer pay attention to the messages they send. It was a sad day to walk around Bute Park, and to realise that we are now living in a completely different world –  a world where human no longer gains their pleasure through the ontological reality.

July 14 was a long waited day for game fans, finally Pokémon Go was released in the UK – a mobile app game which enables you to catch Pokémon (pocket monsters, or some rather cute virtual creatures) everywhere in the world around you, with your phone. Before its upgrade to an app, Pokémon was already popular and well received among game followers from different ages and backgrounds. The now big franchise company was originally released as video games for Game Boy in 1996 in Japan. Throughout the years, its popularity enabled it to be adapted across different media, from manga to anime TV series, to films, to theme park and other merchandises. This is the basic concept of the game. As players, you can catch these cute little pocket monsters with your Pokémon balls. After you have captured them, you pet them, train them, and eventually compete with others’ as a “sport” game. Before, all these can only be achieved in the gamic world; but from now on, this game has been transferred to real locations, thanks to the help of Google Maps. As long as you have your phone camera and GPS on, you would be able to see where these monsters are in real time and real locations. Some “experts” claim that this can be a good encouragement for those who do not normally go out to do so, despite that we have now heard news about people getting lost, trapped and injured only within a month of this app’s release. This is what happened in Bute Park the other day.

The park was usually busy. Three young guys in their early 20s walked toward us with their heads down, all of them had their phones in hands. They just walked pass the remains of Blackfriars’ Friary, but that seemed not to attract their attention. I could not resist and asked, have you guys caught any yet, are there any Pokémon around the park? One of them raised his head and answered, yes, they are everywhere, quick, catch them now. I looked around, all I saw was trees and greenery. He had his head down again after the brief encounter, and they walked pass. In the middle of the field, two young girls stood next to the significant “half alive half dead” tree with their heads down. They did not realise our approaching, and I overheard the conversation. Quick, we have to catch them before others do. Meanwhile, a rather friendly dog with a stick in his mouth ran toward us. It first tried to get the girls’ attention, but they did not respond. It came to us instead and dropped the stick near us. My friend threw it far, and it ran after it with joy and excitement. We looked around this field being unusually busy, all we saw was young people having their heads down walking around, they hardly talked to each other, but a smile appeared on their face every now and then. Sure, the trees were still trying, so was the dog, to get people’s attention. But what could we do? What is it that Pokémon Go offers which Bute Park does not? What comfort does the virtual world offer that allows us to escape from encountering the ontological reality? What are we hiding from, from this filter? Some of the trees in this park have been here at least for few hundred years, but each of them is unique and has a distinguished shape and gesture. Most of these people in the field at that moment, however, looked almost the same for what they were doing and how they reacted, in comparison.

No, I don’t understand the joy, perhaps I am too arrogant to do so. However, I remember this regret well, as a 13-year old teenager, who locked herself in the room with an internet game that is similar to Pokémon, while my little brother was constantly knocking on the door and asking for attention. I chose the virtual pleasure over him, and I regret that I had missed a year to experience his growing. The time of that year in reality can no longer be retrieved.

Indeed, ‘game studies’ has recently expanded and to be recognised as a new academic studies field. For certain, Pokémon Go will become a heat topic to be widely discussed in the near future. One wonders, though, just because we now have more types of technology than ever before, does it mean that our attention on reflection should be drifted away from ourselves, and our relationship with reality?

Has the fundamental question changed, at all?