Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pokemon Go A Cultural Phenomenon

When I was a young man, we lived in a simpler time (not really but I was small and stupid so everything was magic).  I remember hearing about a game that was coming out called Pokemon, where you catch monsters and force them to fight for sport.  Obviously, this was the greatest thing I had ever heard in my life (remember, small and stupid).  Then, they released a TV show based on the game and it made me need this game anymore.  Finally, the day came that I was able to grab Pokemon Red Version, because red is my favorite color.  I was hooked right from Professor Oak asking me to name his grandson.  I would stay in my room and play this game for hours every night, probably neglecting a lot of homework in the process.  But who cares, gotta catch em all right.  Collecting was the big draw for me, but occasionally my friends would get in on the action and we would trade or battle.  Among my friends and I, this was an obsession for years.

Unfortunately, there was a dark side.  This was a hobby that came with certain labels and there was a fair amount of ridicule that went with that.  It was not cool to play Pokmeon, but we did it because it was fun.  I've actually met some of my best friends to this day through Pokemon so I'll be forever grateful for that.

Cut to many years later.  I'm now 30 and while I still enjoy the games, I am not nearly as obsessed as I was when I was a child.  Recently, Pokemon Go was released.  This is a free to play app for phones that uses your GPS location to catch Pokemon, battle gyms, and capture pokestops based upon your real world location.

The game is very similar to Ingress (a game we discussed on the podcast), which makes sense considering it was developed by the same team.  Being a Pokemon and Ingress fan, I was very excited to get my hands on this and hunt Pokemon in the real world.  Finally, the day arrived that I got to leave Pallet Town and set off on my journey.

Panda and I decided to head over to a local mall to get some dinner, ice cream, and check out the pokestops.  I was not prepared for what I was about to see.  I want to start out by emphasizing that I knew Pokemon Go was going to be popular.  Based up articles and hype I had been reading online, I knew a lot of people were as excited for this game as I was.  However, I did not expect it to branch out into the non-gaming community.

When we arrived at the mall, there were (no exaggeration) hundreds of people wandering around playing the game.  At first, my brain didn't comprehend what it was looking at.  I assumed that lots of people were reading text messages or checking social media.  After a while it became clear, that almost every single one of these people were playing Pokemon Go.  It was one of the most surreal moments I've ever had in my life.  This game that I was picked on and teased for liking as a child was now being enjoyed everyone.  There wasn't any barrier between age, race, nationality, religion, or gender.  Everyone was running around, shouting out when they had found something, talking with people they didn't know, making friends, and most importantly, having fun.  Children were playing alongside their parents and in some cases even grandparents.  For a glorious evening it didn't matter who you were voting for in the election.  Whether you were for or against abortion, gun rights, or any other political issue.  All that mattered was catching them all and having a good time.

Since that night, I have gone to many parks with friends and had very similar experiences.  Hundreds of people hanging out, talking, and laughing.  Even celebrities have fallen victim to the pokecraze.

Don't get me wrong, things aren't perfect.  Whenever you have millions of people enjoying an activity, there are bound to be those who ruin the experience whether it be through malice or stupidity.  I don't need to list off examples, they are all over the place.  I do not defend their actions, but at the same time I don't condemn a game based upon the actions of a small percentage of its users.  This can be said for almost anything.

Just like with most things that start out immensely popular, some of the interest has started to wane.  However, the number still appear to be very impressive.  Niantic (the company behind Pokemon Go and Ingress) has hinted that additional features will be introduced to the game such as trading and one on one battling.  I have a feeling this will bring many of the people back.

Gaining level 20 in the game comes with a fair amount of perspective.  This is around the point in the game that you are no longer considered a newbie.  As of right now, the game has become an overnight hit that has taken the world by storm.  There will be diehard fans that stick with it for years to come but a huge number of the players will loose interest with time.  One thing that has amazed me about Pokemon Go is the community around it.  I've been a part of many gaming communities in my time, but this is overwhelmingly the most positive.  There seems to be little to no negativity between the players.  Many gaming communities become fractured due to infighting, however that does not appear to be the case here.  As I said, the game isn't perfect, but I have faith in it.  I'll continue to hang out with my friends and play this game just for the hope that I'll have more nights like that first.

-Big O

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