Pokemon Go: what is it? Why is everyone doing it? Where do I find it? Who even cares?
For those of you who did not have the good fortune to live through the 1990s, Pokemon erupted like Vesuvius all over the world about twenty years ago. It was ubiquitous. You could not get away from Pokemon fever as it swept virtually every corner of the Earth, telling the bizarre tale of ten-year-olds who are kicked out of their parents’ houses to live a life built around the systematic exploitation of monstrous animals, premised primarily on cockfighting and trafficking. You can see why some people did not immediately take to this concept.
Pokemon came out for the Nintendo Game Boy in Japan in 1996 and came in two forms: Red and Green. The wild popularity of the game led to a localization effort that brought the game to North America around 1998, by which time the concept had been aggressively hyped thanks to the fact that an anime series was in the works and also slated to come to the West. When brought to the Americas, the Green version became redone as the Blue version. However, this concept was already quite old: Satoshi Tajiri, the man behind the idea of Pokemon, came up with the concept due to his love of insect collecting. Hilariously, Tajiri remarked in an interview that he would sometimes see his bugs eat each other, but he never had any taste for blood in video games, hence why Pokemon faint rather than die in battle. Despite the lack of blood, Pokemon was a hit of monumental proportions and spawned seven generations of the so-called “pocket monsters,” as well as nineteen (!) movies, a trading card game (which, if you were a 90s child, probably was banned in your school along with Tamagotchi), and a number of comics.
At its core, Pokemon is a standard JRPG, but in reality, it is much more than that. As a dedicated Gen-Oner (that is to say, someone who refuses to acknowledge the games past the first generation because I am old and want those punks off my lawn), I recognize that the Pokemon franchise captures a spirit of adventure that is lacking in many other games. That is fundamentally what Pokemon is: an adventure. The player attempts to capture Pokemon in comfortable capsules called Pokeballs and engages in battle with other Pokemon trainers using their Pokemon. Trainers do battle with leaders of Pokemon gyms to earn badges that give them further mastery over their Pokemon. Ultimately, as Pokemon fight more, they evolve into stronger, more advanced forms. In the process of doing all of this, the player explores a whole world of adventure. This includes spelunking in caves, soothing the unsettled spirit of an angry Pokemon ghost, wandering through an abandoned power plant like any ten-year-old should do, conducting industrial espionage, and taking down a Pokemon mafia. You get to see different places and meet different people. Pokemon has, from its inception, been about the journey rather than the destination, which brings us to Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game for Android/iOS devices that came out earlier this month. Despite a fairly buggy start, Go has taken off, securing a spot as currently the most downloaded app in a single week. Pokemon Go puts the player in the position of a trainer attempting to capture the original 151 Pokemon of the first generation. Players use their mobile devices’ GPS systems to identify their real-world location. As players walk around, Pokemon sometimes appear. The player then lobs Pokeballs at the Pokemon to catch them and fill out his/her Pokedex, an index compiling information on all 151 Pokemon. Pokemon come in various elemental types and are more likely to appear closer to their home elements. For example, I live close to the coast, so I tend to see many water-type Pokemon. It is augmented reality in that the player looks through his/her device and sees the Pokemon appear as if it is in the real world through the device’s camera. In order to obtain more Pokeballs and other items, players need to hit certain hotspots, known as Pokestops, which yield new items. The whole system is derived from an earlier game of a similar nature called Ingress, developed by Niantic (whose name appears when booting up Pokemon Go). Niantic used Google Maps to map out real world locations of interest, which were converted into Pokestops for the purposes of Pokemon Go.
The response to Pokemon Go has been overwhelming. It has become the next…well, Pokemon. It is as if the 90s are happening all over again. I expect augmented reality Tamagotchi to make a comeback very soon. What is most compelling about Pokemon Go is the fact that it has encouraged people to go outside and walk. Years and years of admonitions from our parents about how we need to go outside instead of playing video games may finally be put to rest; now we can go outside and play video games at the same time! This has been a great boon to the industry, finally encouraging people to be healthy in a way that even Wii Fit could not. All it took was the lure of capturing all 151 Pokemon to do it. Personally, I have enjoyed running hither and yon to capture Pokemon. I have met countless other people all playing at the same time. It is not just for kids either; I have seen parents in their forties playing Pokemon Go (and trying to masquerade as if they are just receiving a text). IP and I have been having a great time playing Pokemon Go and finding Pokemon in bizarre places; since Pidgeys are everywhere in general and Magikarp are everywhere near water, she has started calling them the Pidgeys of the sea. Make this happen, people: #pidgeyofthesea
Pokemon Go brings that sense of adventure that the games do directly to your mobile device. No, it is not a complicated game, but it also does not need to be. It is a mobile game that scratches a very specific itch: the desire to be a Pokemon master. Yes, you do need to be aware of your surroundings while playing, as several people have claimed that the game is responsible for their personal injuries by walking into traffic, off cliffs, and into water, but you will be amazed at how many people are not hurting themselves playing this game. You will also meet and perhaps even chat with people also playing the game. The social interaction is easily a better form of social activity than, say, engaging in Twitter wars. It is a positive, healthy, and fun experience, and both IP and I cannot recommend this game enough.
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