The invasion of Pokemon Go into mainstream pop culture has been fast and overwhelming; literally becoming an overnight worldwide phenomenon. These days it seems as if you can't walk down the street without catching a group of wannabe Pokemon trainers making their pilgrimage to the next "Pokestop". Pokemon Go has become a killer app on par with social media platforms like Snapchat and Twitter. In some cases, even surpassing their user bases. I used to play Pokémon back when I was a little kid back it first came to America in the late 1990's. I loved the video games, collected played the card game obsessively -- I still have my badges from the Toys R Us league I was a part of -- watched the godawful televison show, and of course, tortured my parents with my constant nagging that I needed more of Pokemon everything. Of course, I grew out of Pokémon eventually, but I was always happy whenever I would see other children playing it. Knowing the Pokémon was still making kits happy all these years later always brought a smile to my face. But now, with the introduction of Pokémon go, Pokémon has gone from something for children to a phenomenon across all ages. Granted, there always been older fans of Pokémon, but they were never as big as the targeted juvenile audience. With Pokémon Go, I think there actually might be more people over the age of 18 playing Pokémon then there are under. Why is this? Why his Pokémon go such a success and how did it get that way? Well, I downloaded the app and tried it out for myself for a few weeks and these are the five things I learned.
1.) You have to figure everything our for yourself
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game, most commonly referred to as AR. It was developed by Niantic with support from Nintendo and Game Freak, the main curators of the franchise. In it, you create a character from an extremely limited number of customization options and are then shown a GPS map of your surrounding area. As you travel in real time, monsters called Pokemon pop up around you and you then engage with them by tossing a pokeball and hope that the Pokemon won't escape. Those are the basics. There are, of course, many other aspects to the game, but I'm pretty sure I can't name them all. There is a professor that gives you tips on how to play, but only in the most general way. Almost all of Pokemon Go must be figured out by the player without any assistance. It's frustrating and I'm shocked that it hasn't turned more people away. Of course, there are a million different articles on how to play, so maybe its not surpising. In addition to catching, there are various landmarks and historical sites in the real world that are used as "Pokestops" where players can find items and gather with other players in the real world to find even more Pokemon.
2.) It's actually a terrible video game
The ironic thing about Pokemon Go is that, as a video game, it's actually terrible. I don't mean that subjectively either. I could make an argument about the lack of consistency when catching Pokemon or the seemingly random button mashing (screen mashing?) combat. The real problem with Pokemon Go is that it's completely broken on almost every level technically. I don't think I had one session during my period of playing that didn't have the game freeze, glitch out, or more often than not outright crash. Other players have reported having all their progressed wiped out for no reason and there are reports of others being locked out of their accounts after being logged in. All of this, only if you can even get the game running in the first place. As a longtime gamer I have never seen a video game so popular be so obviously broken. I suppose there is no way Niantic could have anticipated the level of popularity the game would reach. But you would think they would eventually get some kind of help or at least improve the performance. Almost a month later the game remains a hot mess. Maybe the hottest of hot messes in the history of gaming. And yet... despite this, the game's popularity only seems to have increased. The mainstream of appeal of Pokemon Go is something most video game and app makers would sell their mothers for. Nintendo's the parent company of the Pokemon franchise has seen their stock skyrocket, despite their involvement in the game being incredibly slight. I don't think I ever saw a Nintendo logo once while playing.
3.) Its appeal remains as irresistible as it did in the past
So what is it that keeps the public so enraptured? In many ways, it's the same reasons why Pokemon become the worldwide phenomenon back in the mid-nineties. It perfectly taps into our inner upsets of compulsive disorders. The Pokémon are also really well designed in a way that is often overlooked. They strike the right balance between cool and cute allowing them a wider appeal. The original video games all had this and we're fairly popular in their own right. But those games were still on the tradition of role playing video games. Pokémon go strips everything away down to the very basic core of what Pokémon is: collecting and fighting. The third pillar of the Pokémon Trinity, training, has yet to come to Pokémon Go. The true appeal of Pokémon Go is the same appeal that so many successful video games have had. It's not about the game so much as it is about the community that has formed around it. Downtown it is mostly groups of people who play. All of them walking and talking like a huge scavenger hunt. Community is what has kept Pokemon Go from being a flash-in-the-pan success. Just how long that will last remains to be seen.