I once thought Pokémon had had its heyday back in the ’90s and ’00s. But apparently, the infatuation that swept every television screen, game console, and fast food joint (who didn’t love those Burger King PokeBalls?) has made a return in one of the most exciting ways.
Since Pokémon Go’s release on Android and iOS devices in select countries on July 6, the world has been going crazy for the augmented reality free-to-play app, which challenges the player to catch varieties of Pokemon in their own cities and pit them against other players for the title of gym leader. The app uses real-world GPS data to designate certain areas as PokeStops, locations the player can use to restock their inventory with PokeBalls and other helpful items, and Gyms, which serve as a quasi-Capture the Flag hotspot for three factions: Team Instinct (Yellow), Team Mystic (Blue), and Team Valor (Red).
When I say, “the world has been going crazy,” it’s a bit of an understatement. PokeRaid events — gatherings of people meeting, talking, and capturing Pokémon — have already begun to pop up. Police stations serving as hotspots for specific Pokémon types and locations have had to issue notices via social media for people to proceed cautiously before crossing into oncoming traffic, keep out of police business entirely, or warn against, as has been happening at an alarming rate in the St. Louis area, becoming a target of robbery.
And this isn’t just kids who don’t remember what a Tamagotchi was or twenty-somethings whose best childhood memories were spent on the original games — people of all ages have been diving into the adventure, seeing it not only as a source of entertainment, but a great aid to their exercise regimen.
Being a hybrid of the first two categories — a twenty-something striving to remain a kid — I had to see what the hubbub was all about. And thus, I downloaded the app and started myself on my adventure.
Let me preface this (as much as I can preface something halfway through an article) by saying that I am an introvert and a homebody. Besides work, I don’t go a lot of places. I have my computer and entertainment at home — I record and edit my videos, I have my games and books and YouTube and television all at home, as well as food and other necessities of life. I bear little desire to get out of my comfort zone most days. But there’s Pokémon out there that aren’t registered in my PokeDex yet, and I am slowly gaining an almost out-of-character desire to hunt them down.
But let me start at the beginning. I downloaded the app with low expectations. I anticipated a similar experience along the lines of what I had with Miitomo — interesting at first, but quickly becoming redundant and, despite my friends’ odd and funny answers to questions, just didn’t hold my attention after a while. But once I got the chance to actually get online (servers were overloaded the first few days, so only brief windows of opportunity allowed the chance to explore), I was already intrigued and…kind of freaked out. The app had my newly created character actually in my neighborhood. Of course, with the little paper airplane icon in the top corner of my phone, I knew why, but it still caused an initial tinfoil hat-wielding jolt of alarm.
A little twinkle later, and suddenly, there was a Rattata on the map. I remember them — not the strongest or best Pokémon, but still holding a few memories for me back in the day when I had my Dad’s original Gameboy and Pokémon Yellow in its cartridge slot. Clicking the little animal icon, suddenly there was a Rattata in my living room next to my dog, chewing on one of her many toys, and a blaring television behind it.
Being someone who has yet to experience the awesomeness of virtual reality anything, this was a bit trippy. But after a few PokeBalls were thrown willy-nilly to figure out the shrinking green circle mechanic, I caught my first Pokémon. This little group of pixels was mine! But then I quickly realized that these little rats were EVERYWHERE. A few hours later, I was rolling in Pidgeys and Rattatas, all caught under my roof and in my backyard, with little idea of what to do with them or how to tell them apart.
My friends the Rogues and Roleplayers had jumped on the wagon around the same time I had, but being more willing to go out into the light than their near-vampiric pal, they had already begun to advance levels. Wade had not only discovered a gym near his workplace, but conquered it for Team Mystic. Bumblure was talking about Pokémon at CP levels my Pidgeys and Rattatas could only hope to someday reach. (CP stands for Combat Power, by the way, something I didn’t know until I literally just looked it up for this article.) Finally, Nosidda gave me some advice: look at the levels of their attacks.
Cue an orchestral “A Whole New World.”
Now I knew what Pokémon to keep, what was worth my time! This changed the game. Now the Professor, to whom you can transfer weak-leveled or unwanted Pokémon in exchange for Candy, character-specific units used to power up or evolve your Pokémon, was getting a load full of the Pokémon that, in the grand scheme of things, weren’t worth a lot of my time. I was actually strategizing, contemplating what Pokémon would be best in a fight at a Gym, the first of which I quickly found at a gas station just down the road from me. Joining Team Mystic for no other reason than my friends had, I finally felt accomplished.
This was Sunday, and I had to go back to work that Monday. Now, I work at the art gallery at my alma mater, and I really enjoy my job and the people I work with. I was happy to get out of the house and go back and get further ahead on upcoming gallery shows. But I found myself even more excited about what lie in wait at the campus. Bumblure had told me there were a multitude of PokeStops and a Gym there. I was eager to go to work so I could catch Pokémon and visit PokeStops after my shift ended.
What was this app doing to me?!!?
But this isn’t an isolated feeling, I’m finding. Planting my spot in the parking lot, I witnessed small groups of students crowding near the large pond near the campus’s front entrance, sharing space under a nearby tree to reduce the reflection on their tiny phone screens. Though they were staring at their phones, serving as living, breathing reflections of the modern generation absorbed in their devices, they were bonding, talking, and enjoying the experience together.
This game has quickly formulated a community, a broad and wide fandom containing all different kinds of people from all walks of life. This is the kind of community movements, campaigns and trends strive for and require years, if not decades, to accumulate. This game has created it in less than a week. It’s an interesting phenomenon to not only experience from the outside, but also participate in.
I also wonder how this game has already impacted and can continue to impact tourism. Spending a half hour traipsing around the campus to spin the medallions of the various PokeStops on campus, I couldn’t help but think that establishing a place as a PokeStop can increase the traffic to a location. While the process of establishing a PokeStop or Gym would have to be heavily reviewed and regulated if a process were instated, I can see local businesses heavily yet passively benefitting from the game.
I mean, I’ve already made a special trip through the parking lot of a grocery store locating two PokeStops (to be fair, I was already there getting gas, and I caught a Magikarp flopping on my dashboard, so it was worth it) and through a nearby subdivision (residential areas are typically bare in the PokeStop/Gym area — another potential promotional opportunity, in my opinion) in search of notable areas and rare creatures, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
It’s addictive, it’s fun, and it’s uniting people. And it’s only the beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful adventure for all.