Almost a month ago, the Niantic Company let loose a mobile game onto Apple’s App store, based on the pop culture sensation Pokemon, called Pokemon GO. In this game, Niantic used their past game’s (Ingress), model to use GPS software to find Pokemon outside as you walk around. Think of it as Google maps with a Pokemon paint job. As players walk around the world pokemon appear, and then using your smartphone’s camera, allows players to capture them by ‘throwing’ a Pokeball at them. Once caught, they are then added to your Inventory. This is the largest selling point of the game, and it’s a really simple one at that. Yet at the same time, this game has been immensely popular. With approximately 15 million downloads, and leading the news with reports of player’s causing traffic accidents, finding dead bodies, fundamentalist outcry, and robberies; the biggest question on most people’s minds is, “why is this game so popular, and who saw that coming?”. Well to answer the first part, you have to take a look at the franchise’s past, and in doing so; the second part is pretty much answered…
Pokemon’s history is vast and huge, and it’s been a staple in our pop-culture entertainment since its first release on Nintendo’s Game Boy back in 1998. Remember that really weird commercial with the creatures on-board a creepy bus driver’s shuttle? Chances are that if you don’t, your kids definitely do, as back at the end of the 90’s it’s what all kids seemed to be playing. If they weren’t, they might have had either the official Pokemon Card Game, or the cartoon anime series to occupy their time. Between the three different forms of entertainment, the commercial campaign (which even got pictures of Pokemon creatures painted on airlines), my childhood was dominated by the presence of this franchise. It even garnered the release of a movie about a year later, that grossed approx. $163.6 million dollars in box-office. Pokemon was the fervor of my generation’s youth, so naturally when Nintendo and the Pokemon allow Niantic to create a free-to-play game based on those characters you have something that’s bound to get a lot of traction.
As mentioned in my first paragraph, the gameplay consists of finding Pokemon outside that links to Google map of sorts on your smartphone. Once the Pokemon is found, players tap on that Pokemon’s corresponding icon, and the app uses your camera to put a picture of that Pokemon with whatever you are looking at with the camera (though this setting can be turned off). In the bottom middle of the screen is a Pokeball icon. To throw a ball, you hold down and slide your finger, or thumb, toward the Pokemon. As you do this, a reticle over the Pokemon appears, and the larger and closer to its original apex it is, the better chance the Pokeball has at connecting to the Pokemon to catch it. Green lines are easy, yellow are slightly more difficult, and red is hard.
Once a Pokemon is caught, its added to your inventory, and you can either give it candy to train/evolve it, or transfer it to gain more of that Pokemon’s associated candy. That core part of the game is really it. There a few other things like eggs, and other items you get in the game, but getting Pokemon is really the crux of the game, aside from a little bit of fighting for gyms, but it’s still really wonky even two weeks later and is not very fun in my mind. It’s just dumbed down screen tapping, and even when you when gym fights you can occasionally encounter a Pokemon that manages to have last HP invincibility. They won’t feint!
The last feature of the game are these locations called Pokestops. These function as location points in real world (could be a gym, a restaurant, statue, or even churches), and when accessed gives players items to use in the game. Sometimes, players can attach modules to these stops, and that’s when things go really bananas. These modules function as ‘lures’ for Pokemon, and can be used by any and all players that encounter it within a 30 min time frame. When you factor in the number of people that seem to play this game, things can get crazy. Case in point for my experience, was three days after this game came out. My brother and I drove out to this loop of conveniently close Pokestops that exists behind our Grocery store, and we found two that were practically right on top of each other. Somone right before us had put down a module on the Pokestop, and Pokemon seemed to be appearing left and right. The amusing thing was that this also lured actual people as well, because they could see on their map that this site had a lure active too! Before I knew it, the carwash parking lot had 15-20 people just hanging out with their phones; catching Pokemon.
Overall from the user base, it seems people are generally pleased with the game. Poekmon as franchise has always had catching and collecting Pokemon at its core, and this game allows people to do just that. Except now they can in the ‘real’ world. The most interesting reception for this game though, has been the outside gaming news audience. For the first time since the franchise begin, the word ‘Pokemon’ has been constantly echoed through various news outlets, including prime time news coverage. The first news piece I can remember, concerned a 19 year old girl that through looking in unusual areas for Pokemon, stumbled on a dead body. This happened again a few days later, when the same happened to another man stumbling off the beaten path again.
The next report I had heard concerned a man who was playing Pokemon GO while driving, and had stopped in the middle of the highway to catch a rare Pokemon that appeared along the way. I was shocked at this report, as it seems like shear insanity that someone would do this. On further research for this article however, I found this to actually be a hoax. The origins of this seem to come from insertnamehere.com, which is site known for making joke pieces. Since then however, there have been accident reports throughout various parts of the nation and the world, so moral of the story is: don’t be a dumbass.
Christian Fundamentalists have also had an interesting point of view on Pokemon GO, as Pastor Rick Wiles from a Cristian podcasting site trunews.com claims that Pokemon GO is using cyber-demons to allow the enemy Satan into churches. He also brings up a very interesting point on how ISIS could use Pokemon GO to target churches in the United States, as churches are one of the most popular places for Pokestops it seems.
Regardless of your view on Pokemon GO, it seems that literally this game has invaded society at it’s very core, and are we really surprised? Maybe it’s just surprising that a mobile game has become so popular and talked about on all levels of our society, but when you think of the impact Pokemon had on our culture back in the 90’s and you put it into the easily accessible mobile game industry, this really doesn’t shock me entirely. Phones add ease of use, and when you see entire mobs of people walking around interacting, you can’t help but ask what they are doing. Then you get curious, and want to try it for yourself. Then you get into it, and then become that person talking about it with others. It can’t itself from spreading like wildfire.
footage via user Nathan Annega on YouTube
That last part I mentioned, concerning people walking around together, is most telling on the true potential merits of this game I believe. People are walking down the street, saying hello, and being generally positive in how they interact with the game. Finding these Pokemon usually becomes a socially cooperative romp, and gets different types of social circles to interact. Sure, it may be really annoying that your news feed seems to be constantly talking about the game, and you may be angry on how society seems more concerned on where Pikachu is hiding then the tense reality of our current world climate, but there is an extremely positive conclusion that can’t be undersold enough. Unity. In a world where our politics and philosophy seem collide, and we remain seemingly separated, people are all cooperating together to play a game that gets people to go outside and have an adventure. It’s that sense of childlike abandon and positivity that the world can use more of, and Pokemon GO brought it.
Curious where I found all my info? Links to various articles below!
Pastor Rick Wiles comment on ‘Cyber Demons’ Pokemon GO
People robbed while playing Pokemon GO
Man finds dead body while playing Pokemon GO
Girl finds dead body while playing Pokemon GO
Holocaust Museum and Auschwitz ask Niantic to take them off Pokemon GO
Man crashes into tree playing Pokemon GO
Pokemon GO car accident hoax