Until a month ago, I had never played Pokemon in any way, shape or form. It was a little after my time. I knew of it and could maybe identify one or two of the creatures from simple cultural osmosis. But the nostalgia value the franchise had for me was basically nil.
So I am somewhat surprised to find that I’ve become a pretty consistent player of this summer’s answer to the Macarena: Pokemon Go. In early July, everyone was talking about it so I decided to give it a whirl. I had just given up on two games I’d been playing for a couple of years, so needed something to fill the boredom*. And Abby was into Pokemon anyway because her best friend is into it, so it seemed like a reasonable lark. And so here I am, a month later, with about 70 of the silly creatures in my phone, past level 20 and going for daily “pokewalks” or “pokerides” with my daughter.
That, to me, is the key to Pokemon‘s success: the social aspect. The game itself is kind of fun. It’s nice to walk around collecting little monsters. The gym aspect, where you fight other pokemons, is OK, if a bit a clunky. There’s a little thrill in finding pokestops and collecting items. The game is well designed to be addictive. But in the end, that’s all swamped by the social aspect: playing with my daughter and occasionally running into other players.
It’s just fun to walk around with Abby playing the game, occasionally catching a monster or attacking a gym together, but mainly hanging out and talking. We’ve gone walking all over our area and discovered new paths. We’ve hung out on campus. I’ve ridden a bike for the first time in thirty years. And even when we aren’t playing together, there’s a thrill in showing her what I caught today. Hell, even my wife now approves of the game (although she’s a bit dubious about us occasionally running out of the house to find a rare Pokemon in our area).
(It’s also occasionally allowed me to share some of my obsessions with Abby. Recently, during a tough fight at a Pokemon gym, I shouted, “I WILL kill him!” which led to a discussion of Dune, another of my little fixations.)
On Facebook, I gave my initial review that the game was OK, but playing it with my daughter was awesome. I stand by that. I expect the popularity to fade a bit as the novelty does. In fact, it already feels like I’m seeing fewer people out playing it (although now that the students are back in town, that should change). But the game has significantly expanded the scope of gaming, becoming the first really popular app where interacting with the real world is part of the game. I suspect more will follow. Some will suck. Some will be good. But it’s a good future to be tumbling into.
(*The game I quit was Boom Beach, which is made by the Clash of Clans folks and quite similar. It’s fun but I’d built everything and was to the point where simply maintaing my rank — at one point, I was one of the top 250 players in the US, which is even less impressive than it sounds — would have consumed hours of my time every day. I simply didn’t see the point of running that kind of treadmill indefinitely, so I let it go.)