I’ve had Pokémon GO since its official UK release (14 July 2016), I haven’t been playing it day in and day out as I have a full-time job and the servers are typically down whenever I’m free. But it’s safe to say the legendary Japanese franchise has respawned in 2016 and launched itself into our lives again. 2016 has undoubtedly been a terrible year: we lost pioneers like Prince, David Bowie, Harper Lee, Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff, Umberto Eco and Alan Rickman, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot dead by a terrorist in her own constituency, we left the EU, there have been unnecessary attacks and deaths all over the world, a Donald Trump presidency is looking like a real possibility and Portugal won Euro 2016 🇫🇷 (I’m not bitter).
Sent from heaven in 1995 and conceptualised by Satoshi Tajiri, the founder of Game Freak Inc, Pokémon had “instant hit” written on it from the moment it was conceived. It is said Tajiri wanted to create a game which embodied the collection and companionship of his childhood hobby, insect collecting. Now Pokémon is the second-most lucrative video game-based franchise in the world, behind Nintendo’s Mario franchise. As of 2015, the Pokémon franchise has earned a monumental £43.53 billion in revenue. Tajiri has also had a hand in many Mario spin-offs as well as The Legend of Zelda, so it’d be hard to deny that The Force is strong with him. I think giving him the title “Mr. Nintendo” is perfectly acceptable, if not a given.
In case you haven’t played Pokémon GO (yet), it is a “free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game”, developed by Niantic. In jargon-free terms, it is an app which uses GPS and smartphone cameras so users can capture, battle and train wild Pokémon which crop up on the streets of the real world. If that isn’t enough excitement for all the Pokémon fans, Niantic are looking to release a Bluetooth watch which will alert users when Pokémon are close by. I never really liked Apple watches because they wouldn’t add much to my life but Niantic’s device means that I wouldn’t have to miss out on Pokémon ever again.
When Niantic announced the app last September, Pokémon GO was instantly praised as it signalled a turning point in augmented and virtual-reality gaming. The nostalgia for and longevity of brands and trends from the 1990s meant that the game was almost destined to be a success. It’s safe to say that the hype has been real. Just look at the man who quit his job to find Pokémon. Pokémon GO has had mixed reviews in the gaming sphere and within many other communities. Here’s a quick overview:
- Destructoid = 3.5/10, “It’s not a bite-sized version of the iconic handheld games, as it lacks many of the systems you would expect from a Pokémon release. Most of the systems that are present lack any proper tutorial. The game is still broken, several days out from release. In any other title, these issues would be unforgivable.”
- GameSpot = 7/10, “Its bugs and high battery consumption do not outweigh the old-but-new thrill of capturing Pikachu at a local park or vanquishing a Snorlax while conquering a gym.”
- IGN = 7.0/10, “It’s not mechanically interesting, but it is socially very interesting…”
- The Guardian = 2/5, “To put it bluntly, Pokémon Go is not good as a game. Until it gets updates that iron out kinks and offer the content promised in early trailers, such as trading Pokémon, group battles, or even just more interesting combat, this isn’t likely to change.”
Overall from reviews, it is fair to say that Pokémon GO is an incredible idea and a positive social experience but the technical side to game lets it down.
The app has allowed us to explore the world around us- the streets, parks and monuments we mindlessly walk through every single day. On the second night of having the app, I walked through Avenham Park after work at 2am with a work-mate and I was shocked to see large groups of people sat around monuments, setting off lures and socialising with each other. “TEAM RED???” being shouted at me from young man lying on a park bench with his feet up, like he was in his own bedroom, has to be the moment that got me thinking. People are visiting neighbouring towns and cities they wouldn’t usually venture into in order to find Pokémon. Just from walking the streets and getting your bearings, you can’t avoid exploring and learning about these new places. If you’re desperately searching for a particular Pokémon, there is no shame in asking a fellow trainer near to you whether they have seen that Jynx too. You cannot deny that the app signals a change in gaming- discovery, prosocial play, walking long distances and sprinting short distances to find nearby Pokémon are all defining traits of the game. It has already taught me so much about the little city I live in and the thrill of catching ’em all is also encouraging me to visit other local towns and cities.
This being said the servers often crash, the app crashes with an even more frustrating frequency. That frustration often evolves into anger when the app becomes unresponsive when you’ve caught a Pokémon, when you reopen it to find that your prize from a fairly basic battle didn’t actually register to your Pokédex. Like many apps, Pokémon GO annihilates your phone battery. And I don’t know about you but I don’t know how what this Stardust matter is in my inventory and I don’t even know how to evolve my Pokémon. Many acknowledge that there is an tutorial at the start of the game, albeit it a very basic one, but there certainly isn’t enough information to make full use of the game.
Living in such a success-driven, “do or die” capitalist society which usually reserves play for children, I think Pokémon GO is a beautiful contribution to the modern world. Yes it is clunky, yes it often crashes but it is getting people out there. Play and gaming are good for the soul, they let us momentarily disconnect from our stressful lives and they feed into our creative souls (take The Sims franchise for example). Pokémon GO lets us make friends along the way and it allows us to forget about failure. 2016 has been one of the most difficult years to date, politically and socially, but Niantic have given us a taste of what is yet to come and that is also normal to randomly ask someone in a street if they are also looking for that elusive Dratini.
So, remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.