Last week, we got back from a forage to find The Verulam Arms’ kitchen team running around the pub garden madly waving their phones in the air. Had they eaten a funny mushroom? No, they were trying to catch Pokemon. Apparently the pub is now a designated “Pokestop”.
Pokemon Go is an overnight sensation. If you haven’t heard, it’s a mobile game where you have to collect little animals called Pokemon. The game is connected to your phone’s GPS and knows where you are, so to catch Pokemon you have to explore your surroundings by visiting real life locations.
Already, reports are coming in which suggest that this craze is helping kids’ (and grown ups’) mental and physical health by encouraging them to get outside and explore the world. People who would ordinarily have no interest in being outdoors are grabbing their phones and heading out to track down the elusive monsters.
To us, as foragers, this is all too familiar. Finally, the general population knows what it’s like to be suddenly distracted by an exciting find while walking down the road, or to feel twitchy and restless when indoors, thinking of the treasures that are out in the wild waiting to be found, or to look for excuses to take the scenic route on journeys so as to increase your chances of finding something amazing, or to pore over maps, profiling different potential environments and habitats (Pokemon, we hear, are like plants – different specimens thrive in different terrains).
Pokemon Go is doing for the masses what foraging has already done for us: it game-ifies real life, overlaying a set of goals and rewards onto a previously meaningless landscape. Before Pokemon Go existed, I would already tell people that foraging was like a video game; it transforms the wild outdoors from a sea of uniformly uninteresting green into a catalogue of rare and fascinating morsels to be recognised and collected. The way you see the world is transformed by things you know and things you need. And the reward of finding what you seek is supremely addictive, whether it’s a Pokemon or a delicious mushroom.
Foraging is the original Pokemon. In fact, just as we were inspired to forage by fond memories of picking blackberries with our grandparents, the original creator of Pokemon based the game on his experience of playing outside as a child, catching bugs in jam jars. There is clearly something deep inside all of us that this stuff appeals to. And why wouldn’t there be? It really wasn’t so long ago that our ability to catch animals and gather fruits and vegetables from the wild was an essential survival skill. We find it fun because we’d die if we didn’t.
Of course, we’re biased, but we’d take foraging over Pokemon any day, because foraging is Pokemon in reality. Mushrooms aren’t imaginary. Foraging isn’t just the original Pokemon, it’s the original game. The game of life.