Since its launch on July 6, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. We ask players why.
It was my seventh lap around the fruit stand at the minimart in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I was supposed to be selecting a prepackaged salad from the fridges lining the back wall, but Pokémon were constantly appearing and like any Pokémon trainer, I had to catch them.
“Okay, enough Pokémon Go. Give me your phone.”
Sam Weiss, my best friend and travel partner, made a swift lunge towards the iPhone 5C gripped between my fingers. Adamantly and with skills brought on by the adrenaline rush, I dodged him and escaped towards the cookie aisle. A young store employee had been watching us while restocking the strawberries. There was either a huge demand for strawberries or he was simply amused by our bickering, because he stood there for quite some time watching silently and grinning. Finally he joined into the conversation. “I don’t play that game. It’s addicting.”
“I agree. She keeps playing it!” replied Sam.
“I don’t think it’s addicting,” retorted the sushi chef from the counter behind us. “It’s fun. What level are you?”
In this moment, Pokémon Go had united perfect strangers into a full dialogue with incredible ease. Sam and I played the game while backpacking across seven European countries and in each place we visited, these moments were a recurring theme. Pokémon Go brought people together across geographic borders, diverse demographics and different cultures.
By the end of our trip, Sam was as hooked as I was. We ran across the Charles Bridge in Prague chasing “Magikarp” and buying souvenirs in the rain. Never has the flu been so well worth every sneeze.
How do you play Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game, which means players must explore the real world with their mobile devices to play. Like the Pokémon card game, video games and cartoon popular since the mid 1990s, the game’s purpose is for the player to become the best Pokémon trainer possible, as indicated by levels of play. Players capture and train Pokémon characters to challenge each other in digital battles. The most successful trainers often hold a large number of different types of Pokémon in their arsenal. Pokémon are kept in red and white Pokéballs until summoned.
In the Go version, players have to walk around to catch Pokémon, collect items at PokéStops and to digitally battle for supremacy in PokéGyms. The game, played on Android and iOS supported devices, looks like a GPS map that shows the locations of a) nearby Pokémon, which players can catch using PokéBalls, b) PokéStops, to restock items such as PokéBalls, and c) PokéGyms in which to battle.
Players visit PokéStops to gather items but also to explore historical markers and interesting locations across their towns. Alexa Harmon, a 21-year-old student at Sam Houston State University and Keller resident says, “There are a lot of things on campus that I never noticed until they became a PokéStop.”
If it seems like everyone is playing Pokémon Go, it’s because almost everyone is. When the app was launched on July 6, it immediately raced to the top of all the app charts despite the fact that the initial launch was only in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The game’s servers crashed repeatedly from the large numbers of players accessing them. Within days, Apple reported that the game had been downloaded from the App Store more times during its first week than any other app in history.
Many people play because they grew up watching the cartoon, trading Pokémon cards like currency at school, and playing the Gameboy games.
“I enjoy it a lot more because I feel I know what the old games were like and I can contrast it,” says Harmon.
Jenin Gonzalez, a 27-year-old Keller resident, says he also revisited the old cartoon episodes. “You’re going back to your childhood, you’re going back to thoughts of what is Pokémon is. It brings you back.”
While some players relish in the nostalgia, others play for the social aspect. There’s a definite cool factor when walking by someone playing around you. You give each other knowing nods, maybe a smile and maybe even ask each other what the local find was. Perhaps this explains the reason why people from all age groups are playing together.
Families often play in groups. Anya Bosworth, a 23-year-old Keller resident, says, “It does get you out and into the world and interacting with people. It’s not an isolated game.”
Gonzalez says he’s met many people playing. “There’s no worrying about if you guys are going to have fun that day, because these are all new people.”
“It really helps you spend time with friends and I’ve even played with my mom and my little brother,” says Harmon.
Are there safety concerns?
The game warns players to avoid trespassing and dangerous areas. It also has a pop-up that appears when players are moving too fast, such as in a car. Players must confirm they are a passenger before the game resumes, although this hasn’t stopped people from playing while driving.
James Intia, Community Relations Officer with the Keller Police Department, says that although there haven’t been any major issues with the game in Keller, players should stay aware of their surroundings at all times. “Don’t play Pokémon and drive and don’t go anywhere that you’re not familiar with. Even in Keller, you’ve got to be weary of your surroundings.” Officers haven’t had to deal with any major situations linked to the game, but they have had to ask players to leave parks after closing hours.
Players who go out late should stay in groups in well-lit and crowded areas. “There could be room for improvement, but I think that overall there are enough people playing it so that people kind of know where to go and where is safe or unsafe,” says Bosworth. Harmon says none of her friends have had any safety concerns either.
Game addictions are also a concern for Pokémon Go. Gonzalez says that one of the first players he ever met created an account which he was using to feed other players information about the game. “It’s ridiculous. He was doing live streams and people were paying him for it. Some people take it to the extreme. This is their life, they game. For me it’s just something fun to do. I’ll be the very best, at some point.” (Here, Gonzalez jokingly refers to the first line of the popular cartoon’s theme song, “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was...” On average, Gonzalez says he spends 4-5 hours playing per week.
Where are Pokemon hiding?
Local players have set up Reddit and Facebook pages dedicated to informing other players about Pokemon events, meetups, and best spots to play. Some of the hotspots for gameplay around Keller include: Keller Public Library, Keller Pointe, Keller Town Hall, Keller Town Center and Bear Creek Park. According to many of the players, Keller Public Library is specifically known for having “Charmander”, one of the rarer and sought after Pokémon. Other places with high game activity are Sundance Square, Fort Worth Water Gardens, Panther Pavilion, and Dallas Arboretum.
In an interview with IGN, a global games and entertainment news company, CEO John Hanke of Niantic, maker of Pokémon Go, promised updates to the game every two weeks. This can only mean that the game will continue to evolve. Among the rumored updates are new types of the incense item which will attract specific Pokémon types to the players and possibly a trading option for players to swap Pokémon. The game’s devoted fan base shows no sign of relenting. Niantic has reversed all the common stereotypes of gaming with Pokémon Go. They’ve creating a global game that not only encourages socializing and exercise, but is also free and profitable.
We may be witnessing a turning point in gaming history.
Rawan Shishakly is a graduate student at UNT’s Mayborn School of Journalism. She spent her summer studying abroad in Japan and backpacking through Europe. She is a level 24 PokemonGo trainer, but not for long…