‘Pokémon Go’ Captures Our Hearts and Health
After logging nearly 20 miles of walking over a 4 day period, my phone’s fitness app must think I became obsessed with my health overnight. In reality, I became captivated with Nintendo’s second mobile app: Pokémon Go, developed by Niantic, Inc. Pokémon Go is a unique free-to-play game that relies on your real-life location to spawn catchable Pokémon in augmented reality (AR). Fusing powerful Pokémon nostalgia with a tech-obsessed culture has resulted in an entirely unique experience of gaming, exploration, and friendly communication with strangers.
Pokémon Go was released in the United States on Wednesday, July 6th after growing anticipation stemming from the release in Australia and lack of information on when other regions would have it. By July 8th, Nintendo’s stock jumped over 10% due to the application’s viral success. As the weekend progressed, Pokémon Go quickly became a nationwide phenomenon, drawing curiosity from gamers and non-gamers alike. The game has also occupied the news in unique ways beginning Friday after a teenager allegedly discovered a dead body while exploring a river in Wyoming. In Missouri, thieves used specific game features combined with a shady location to lure several unsuspecting victims into a string of armed robberies.
On the other side of the experience, the Pokémon Go subreddit is filled with tales of increased exercise, new friendships, and even dates originating from players stepping outside of their homes and meeting strangers playing the same addicting game. Part of this camaraderie stems from the game including no tutorial or explanation on how the game works, drawing from the early age of video games where players had to swap strategies and tips rather than simply reading through a walkthrough. Groups have also formed surrounding the in-game teams that players choose once they hit level 5: Team Mystic (Blue), Team Valor (Red) and Team Instinct (Yellow). I witnessed many of these marvels in downtown Omaha, Nebraska late Friday and Saturday as the Project-Nerd team attended O Comic Con.
After an 11-hour day on Saturday of running booths, moderating panels and selling comics, sleep would have been a sweet escape for our tired feet. However, rest was far from our minds as 4 Project-Nerd team members charged up our phones, and stepped into the cool summer night to explore downtown and The Old Market. We traded bar-hopping for stop-hopping (PokéStops that is). Joined by friends and loved ones, our group grew to 9 aspiring Pokémon catchers wandering the streets of Omaha at nearly midnight. In our two hour trip we saw well over 200 people playing the game. At one point I stopped on a bridge, turned completely around and counted 35 people within eyesight catching Pokémon at 1:30 in the morning.
Several times throughout our trek, we stopped and mingled with strangers also playing the game, asking about each other’s Pokémon collections and swapping the location of a rare Golduck. Circling a large park to collect items from Pokéstops, we bumped into two police officers who politely told us “Feel free to catch them, but you can’t catch them in the park” as it had already closed for the night. We in turn passed that information on to other players attempting to enter the park further down the street. Groups passing by would often ask us which team we were on, prompting a short exclamation of “Team Valor!” or “Mystic for life!”.
The early success of the game seems to rely heavily on creating an experience that mirrors the mechanics of a mainstream Pokémon game. Players are already riding skateboards and bicycles in an effort to game the system and hatch eggs that they have collected, which is the go-to method for hatching eggs in a full Pokémon game. If PVP battles and trades are introduced via updates, there is a strong possibility that players will camp out on a street corner looking to acquire a Pikachu or challenge other gamers to a friendly battle.
The lasting success of the app will be determined by new features and fixes for the current bugs, of which there are many. While the servers for the game improved over the weekend, numerous server crashes plagued the game’s first 48 hours. Additionally, a particularly nasty bug prevents players from winning gym battles for their respective teams. Depending on the route Niantic chooses, by next July we could be catching new Pokémon in a lasting trend or, at the very least, we will all remember the weekend that Pokémon Go launched.