The first time I played Pokémon, I was about 5 years old. My dad picked me up from school and said he had a present for me–it was a GameBoy Color and Pokémon Yellow. I opened it in the car and started up the console. I was absolutely enthralled by the game. The thought of bringing Pokémon to life has been a dream of mine ever since that day and last week, it became a reality.
PokémonGo was released on July 6 and has already reached more users than Tinder and is nearing the same number of active daily users as Twitter. People are spending more time playing PokémonGo than they spend on Instagram and Snapchat. This mobile augmented reality game has created a huge buzz since the Google April Fool’s Day prank in 2014 called Pokémon Challenge, where users could search all over Google Maps to catch Pokémon. While the Google version was ultimately revealed as a prank, in September of 2015, PokémonGo was announced at a press conference led by Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, GAME FREAK and Niantic, Inc.
Nintendo has always had a huge lead in the video game market–they are known for their originality and creativity, as well as their innovation in consoles and games. Pokémon has been enormously popular since the original Japanese release in 1996. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Pokémon and the Pokémon Company has been celebrating all year. Every month, a rare, legendary Pokémon is released for trainers to collect through either a code or download. New games, consoles and special editions are available throughout the year commemorating the Pokémon phenomenon. PokémonGo is only one part of this enormous Pokémon Party, but it’s a revolutionary part.
Nintendo has constantly been at the head of merging virtual reality with actual reality–PokémonGo is part of an augmented reality and is the next logical step between the two worlds. By using your smartphone’s camera, you can see an image of the Pokémon that you encounter in the wild. People are finding Pokémon everywhere–I myself have caught some of my favorite first generation Pokémon in my own home.
But the real adventure is exploring your own hometown through a new lens. I live about three blocks away from a large Catholic church. I’m Methodist, so I’ve rarely been to this church. However, this church hosts a Pokémon Gym and four Pokéstops in the game. At the Gym, trainers can battle Pokémon for control of the territory. Pokéstops are like refueling stations–you can pick up Pokéballs to catch Pokémon and Potions to heal your Pokémon after battles. Pokéstops and Gyms are usually places of importance–churches, historical buildings, important graves in cemeteries, etc. The Pokéstops at this church are four statues of saints and other religious figures. Before PokémonGo, I didn’t even know these statues existed, let alone who they represented and their importance to the Catholic faith and this particular church.
PokémonGo has also been beneficial for individuals as well as communities. Personally, I’ve been walking for two hours every night around my little corner of suburbia to train and catch my Pokémon. Last night, I went to a PokémonGo meet-up at a walking trail in the neighboring town–I didn’t count how many people were there, but the Facebook event had almost 300 people that said they would attend and about 600 more who replied that they were interested in attending. I’ve met several new people through Facebook groups and walking around town at night.
Many people also report improved health, both mental and physical, after downloading the game. PokémonGo forces users to go outside to play to its full advantage–the best way to play is to walk around. Driving won’t work either–in order to hatch Pokémon Eggs, you have to walk 2, 5 or 10 kilometers, but the distance won’t measure if you drive because you’re moving too fast. Walking on a treadmill won’t work either because the game relies on GPS, not the number of steps you take. Many users who have battled depression, social anxiety or even agoraphobia have been encouraged to go outside and walk around, creating enormous health benefits.
PokémonGo has already announced some new features that they plan to implement in future updates, including trading and new forms of training Pokémon. Niantic hopes to have bi-weekly updates to improve server stability and continue innovating this brand new world for PokémonGo users.So, why all the hype around PokémonGo? For those of us who have grown up with the little Pocket Monsters - the games, the cards, the movies–this is a whole new way to experience one of our childhood past times. By bringing a classic video game to a modern world, we get to relive the excitement of finding new Pokémon, the pride we feel when we win our first gym battle and the joy of meeting other people who enjoy the game as much as we do. For me, it’s like opening up that present from my Dad all over again and fumbling with a new toy, figuring out all its secrets and tricks to beat it. In 1996, Nintendo revolutionized the mobile video game industry.
20 years later, they did it all over again–and we are loving every minute of it.