Is Pokémon Go Your New Wingman?

It's hardly a secret that Pokémon Go is the latest gaming craze. Some analysts estimate the game has been downloaded by 20 million people since its release earlier this month. I'm actually one of those folks, joining the Poképarade last weekend when my significant other and our houseguest decided to go for a game-playing walk after dinner. I didn't want to be stuck at home with the dirty dishes, so I downloaded the app, took some quick instruction, and now I'm a playa. So if you see me walking down the street staring at my iPhone and not paying attention to much else, there's a good chance I'm on the trail of a purple poison Nidoran or some other equally elusive Poképrize.

In case you don't know much about Pokémon Go, I'll tell you that it's a phone app, but it's also a real world scavenger hunt. Sort of. Basically, players use their smartphones to generate video of the world around them and once in a while the app digitally inserts a Pokémon character into the video, with players capturing these adorable little monsters and earning points. To date, there has been a lot of talk about how people are "disappearing" into the game and losing focus on the real world. For instance, two young men walked off a 90 foot cliff in San Diego, a teenaged girl got hit by a car when she strolled onto a busy roadway, and countless drivers have banged into other motorists, telephone poles, and even, in one instance, a parked police car thanks to this mesmerizing little game.

And now people are using Pokémon Go for romantic purposes. For instance, long-term partners are using it as a way to spend time together -- my own relationship included. Since downloading the app, my spouse and I have gone for a walk every single night, ostensibly searching for Pidgey, Hoothoot, and Rattata, but really just enjoying a good time with each other. And thank goodness, because generally we don't get nearly enough stress-free fun, what with work and politics and all the other distractions we both have to deal with.

Single people are getting in on the act as well, using Pokémon Go as date bait. This new form of digital romancing may or may not have begun at a Pokémon Go event in Indianapolis, when at least a few of the thousands of people "fishing" in the downtown canal for Magikarp (a fish-like Pokémon that swims sideways, for some reason) realized that playing the game is a really good excuse to say hello and strike up a conversation with other players. Especially the ones you find attractive. By the end of the day there was a Pokémon Go: Indianapolis group on Facebook with more than 1000 members, many of whom wanted to set up a Pokémon themed dating event. And it's not just happening in Indy. In Tempe, more than 2000 players recently attended a Pokémon Go singles night. Other cities report similar activity.

Suddenly, playing Pokémon Go is like taking your really cute puppy out for a walk and using it as your wingman. Except you don't need a puppy. Just put on your best outfit, head to a downtown park or some other semi-cruisy location, and whip out your phone. If someone cute crosses your path, you can say, "Excuse me, I think there's a Totodile behind you!" And if the other person smiles or, even better, captures that Totodile thanks to your alarm, maybe you can suggest walking around together for a while (if only to make sure you don't stumble off a cliff). And if that works out, you might propose a light lunch at a cute little café you know where you can power up on balls, incense, and potions.

And by the way, you and the other person will likely enjoy this little adventure, because playing games with other people is almost always a fun experience.

Recognizing the efficacy of Pokémon Go from a dating standpoint, romantic hopefuls all across the country are updating their hookup and dating profiles, mentioning that they enjoy Pokémon Go and, when appropriate, suggesting the game as their go-to "get to know you" date. I mean, who needs "Starbucks and scones" or "Netflix and chill" when you've got a cute little game that, by design, gets you walking, talking, enjoying your surroundings, and having fun?

So no longer do you have to sit at home logged in to half a dozen dating and hookup apps, waiting for your phone to buzz (and praying that when it does buzz it won't be that same super creepy stalker who's been trying to hook up with you for three months to the point where you've blocked his/her profile more than once but he/she just creates a new profile and keeps after you, hoping you'll eventually give in). Instead, you can doll yourself up and take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood, getting a bit of exercise and snaring a few new Pokémon while checking out the local talent and using the game as an excuse to stop and chat.

Of course, if you've also got a really cute puppy to bring along, that's even better. Everybody loves a puppy.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities. An internationally acknowledged clinician, he has served as a subject expert for multiple media outlets including The Oprah Winfrey Network, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, and CNN, among many others. For more information please visit his website at robertweissmsw.com or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.