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Pokemon Go recently announced a new in-game avatar shirt to bring awareness to the United Nations’ Global Goals initiative. My question for you and for Future Caleb is, should video game companies, or any company, promote social issues? What are your thoughts?

Transcript(ish)

Hey Future Caleb, in the future do you elect companies in the same way you elect government officials? That is to say, quite irresponsibly and with a heavy dose of confirmation bias, but more-so are all companies, like elected officials, aligned in some public way to social issues?

Recently, Pokemon Go–a game that in your year of 2078 is fondly remembered as the reason your doctor finally said video games were good for you, and you broadened that statement to include all video games, arguing with the IRS that your pre-taxed Health Savings Account can be used for the new Wolfenstein pre-order. You lost that argument.

Anyway, Pokemon Go recently announced a new in-game avatar shirt to bring awareness to the United Nations’ Global Goals initiative. Historically, new in-game assets like these were part of larger Pokemon Go events that often align with real-world events. For example, during the 2017 equinox, players would get Double Stardust, special boxes available in shops, and triple XP for new Pokemon registered to the Pokedex. I don’t know what any of that means, as I’ve never played a Pokemon game. But it turns out that this Global Goals shirt had no corresponding event, and when fans found out this new shirt-reveal came without in-game perks, they went from Pokemon Go to Pokemon No.

The big question here is whether or not it’s okay for companies to broadcast stances on social issues to their consumer base. Now, Pokemon Go has another unfortunate layer that makes their situation unique. They not only publicly aligned themselves to a social issue, but they did so not in tandem with consumer expectations, but at the expense of consumer expectations. Players had come to expect new shirts to mean new in-game perks. Pokemon Go gave a new shirt, but no in-game perks. And then they put a social message on top of that, which likely had the opposite of their intended effect. Rather than embrace the Global Goals initiative, players may associate it with the removal of something they love and could actively distance themselves from even learning about the Global Goals initiative.

Imagine this: every December you sit on Santa’s lap. A few weeks later you wake up with toys in your living room. Now, imagine one year, you sit on Santa’s lap, and not only are their no toys in your living room, but Santa suddenly appears to present a slideshow full of depressing images of people in poverty. Merry Christmas.

But for the sake of this video, I’m going to ignore Pokemon Go’s unique mishandling and instead focus on the larger questions regarding whether or not companies should align themselves to social issues.

Let’s start with why an entity–a person or a company–would evangelize. When someone believes in a cause, they want to talk about it. Let’s say you don’t care about Jesus. You start a company. The company gets big. You also, concurrently, though independently, learn about and embrace Jesus. Do you have a moral obligation to commandeer your company’s audience to evangelize for Jesus? Perhaps, if your very sense of moral obligation has changed. If the very thing you evangelize for promotes that evangelizing as a key component to belief, like Christianity, then you may feel justified to evangelize.

Social issues are similar, I think. When an entity believes in something as far reaching as the need for global sustainability (or the validity of a religion), evangelizing for it is part-and-parcel. When you have knowledge that you feel could benefit the entire world, it would be selfish to keep that knowledge to yourself, right? Not evangelizing is antithetical to the very message itself.

Pokemon Go probably feels a moral responsibility to use their audience to promote the Global Goals initiative. That’s the simple answer to why they would offer an in-game asset in support of this initiative. But a better question might be, is this sort of broadcasting even effective?

The player base on Pokemon Go would fall into four groups: 1) players who have never heard of the Global Goals initiative, 2) players who agree with the Global Goals initiative, 3) players who disagree with the Global Goals initiative, and 4) players who have heard of the Global Goals initiative, but don’t have an opinion either way.

For those players that fall into group 3, will their minds be changed?

The problem is that a wide reaching concept like religion or global sustainability is too massive for a person to comprehend. So, we must process that information emotionally rather than rationally. This is one reason why astrophysicist Neil-Degrasse Tyson is so effective. He describes the unfathomable expanse of the universe not in light years but in emotionally affecting metaphors via a healthy dose of sexy, sexy charisma.

Emotions and rationale aren’t processed the same way in the brain.

There have been a lot of studies showing that you cannot change a person’s mind with logic. This reality is compounded when the thing you are trying to change a person’s mind about is so entrenched with emotion, like religion or global sustainability. The truth is, when a person is presented with information that contradicts what they believe, the brain metaphorically shuts off. So, can Pokemon Go change the minds of group #3. No likely.

I know what you are thinking, present viewer, “I’m unique. I’m open to hearing all sides of an argument before making a decision. I’m intelligent.” But the reality is, you aren’t unique. Data from Yale actually suggests that the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to change data at will to confirm your own biases. Perhaps the reason being that an intelligent person can recognize more flaws in the opposing side’s argument.

So, if Pokemon Go feels an obligation to talk about the Global Goals initiative, but they stand very little chance of actually converting those who are against it, then why do it? Awareness. They aren’t after players in group #3. They are after players in groups #1 and #4. It is important to make people aware of something so that they can make up their own minds about it. Of course, the inherent problem is that by simply making someone aware of something, you are implicitly assigning yourself to a side, and our confirmation biases flare up.

But, I respect Pokemon Go for trying. As I stated earlier, they perhaps unintentionally shot themselves in the foot by simultaneously not delivering the expected in-game perks, but awareness is important.

It’s easy for me, present Caleb, to agree with Pokemon go, because sustainable development is something I agree with. But for you, future Caleb, after having made a fortune from the wasteful practice known as disposable development, where apartment complexes are collapsed and discarded every few years like cardboard bottle totes, I understand your hesitation. Money has corrupted you, so you think sustainable development is, oxymoronically perhaps, garbage. I don’t understand your position, but I won’t try to argue you out of it.

Present viewers, what do you think about companies using their consumer base to bring awareness to social issues? Tell me in the comments below.

Please like, subscribe, and click the Bell icon to make sure you don’t miss future videos. I’m trying to get the average views per video up to 100 by the end of the year. Sharing this video with your gaming friends helps a lot toward that goal. And if you are still watching this video, you obviously like it, right? So, please share.

This video’s topic was offered to me by Dean (@Round2Gaming on Twitter). If you liked this topic, why not tweet him a quick thanks.

Thank you for watching.

And to you future Caleb, say hi to your grandkids for me.

Research/Sources/Credits/Inspirations (this is not a comprehensive list, as that would be impossible, especially the “inspirations” items)

Music Credits

8bit Dungeon Level Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com), Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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