How Apps Help Us Interact With Our Environment: Taking a Look at Rob Walker’s “Pokemon Go in the Lower Ninth District” and Zombies,Run!

In Rob Walker’s “Pokémon Go in the Lower Ninth Ward”, Walker explores the world of Pokémon Go, or rather, he allows the app to help him explore his own world. Upon hearing that the app was “somehow awakening players to aspects of their environs that were previously overlooked” he skeptically downloaded it and found himself guided to odd and mysterious landmarks. Walker notes that Pokémon Go has considerably less landmark stops in the Lower Ninth Ward than it does in other more economically privileged areas. However, he still found the app an exciting tool to interact with his environment saying “I am here to tell you, there are no ‘shitty’ Pokestops.”

The utilization of apps to heighten our interaction with our environment is not unique to Pokémon Go. Apps like Yelp help to find restaurants near us and Google Maps will literally help walk you to your desired location. As a runner, as well as a lover of the digital age, I am always on the hunt for an app that can help my runs feel like less of a workout and more of a game. I want something that goes beyond the Nike Training app and makes my run more interactive. After reading Walker’s article I was especially excited to find an app that would help make my run more interactive. There was buzz in the running community about an app called “Zombies, Run!”, and I decided to give it a try.

“Zombies, Run!” is different from other running apps in that it is not just a GPS tracker, but a game. The game follows a narrative that you listen to as you run. With each run the narrative continues, both getting you outside and keeping you wanting to run. You begin your story as “Runner 5” in an apocalyptic world. The majority of humanity has been turned to zombies and there are a series of base camps were those who are still human live. It is the job of the “runners” to protect these basecamps and collect supplies.

As I began the game I found myself-emerged in this apocalyptic world. A trail run that would have usually been a simple 30 minute out and back quickly became a fight for my life. I found myself interacting with my run differently. A once isolated Missouri trail transformed into the abandoned leftovers of the apocalypse. I was no longer exercising but rather, gathering supplies for my base camp and running for my life. Just as Pokémon Go changed the way Robert Walker interacted with his neighborhood, “Zombies, Run” had changed the way I interacted with my trail run. I stopped dreading my runs and started getting excited to interact with the next chapter of the story. I began to take detours from my usual route, telling myself it would be harder for zombies to chase me if I ran off the beaten path. Like Walker, I began to alter the game as I played. The app did not ask me to detour from the trail. I simply had to run faster than the zombies, however I became so emersed in the game that I chose to alter my rans in order to escape the zombies the way that seemed most practical to me. By doing so I was able to discover new trails, as well as get lost a couple times along the way (wich I’m sure would have led to demise if there had be actual zombies, but we won’t discuss that).

It has been argued that technology takes us out of our surroundings and makes us numb to the world around us. This is both true and false. It is not technology that distracts us from our environment but ourselves. We choose how to use technology. We are the ones who ultimately choose how to experience the world around us. We can choose to engage or we can choose to withdraw. I think Robert Walker and I would both agree that Pokémon Go and “Run, Zombies!” push us to interact with our world in new and exciting ways. These apps push us past Instagram selfies and Facebook statuses and force us to engage in ways that we haven’t before.