My phone buzzes. “Let me know if you still want to go and catch Pokemon tonight,” the text reads. “I’m gonna get off work a little later than expected.”
Everywhere you look, you can see this kind of message isn’t an anomaly. Signs at local restaurants that read “Show us your rare Pokemon for a dollar off.” Turning on national news to see the anchors discussing how to catch the creatures. Even Mizzou’s official Twitter has joined the craze.
Weekend plans pic.twitter.com/nhWhP4mxJ4— Mizzou (@Mizzou) July 9, 2016
OK, so maybe Pokemon haven’t spontaneously burst into existence. But it sure feels like it. By now, you’ve surely heard of Nintendo’s free-to-play app Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game that combines the real world with the colorful, Pikachu-filled world many of us grew up with.
The game, at its core, is pretty simple. The Pokemon trainer you customize and that appears on the screen represents you, and as you move in real life, the trainer moves across the map in real time. Pokemon spawn in actual places and you can hunt them down, or you could take a walk and leave it up to chance what creatures you run into. There are also Pokestops (locations where you can pick up free items) and Gyms (that function similar to Gyms from the main series games where you compete to show your dominance as a trainer) located at monuments and points of interest in the real world. When you go to catch a Pokemon, the AR (augmented reality) kicks in and you see your potential new friend sitting around in whatever your environment happens to be.
With the increase in popularity of Pokemon Go be aware of your surroundings. Explore Pokemon on campus, but be safe. pic.twitter.com/6aaMw0A8ps— MUPD (@MUPDpolice) July 11, 2016
While the game has its downsides, it feels like a dream come true for me. I was that Pokemon kid. I collected the trading cards and during recess I would meet up with my interest-sharing friends to compare our new cards and dream about being Pokemon trainers. The first of the video game series I played was “LeafGreen,” and I’ve played at least one of the versions for every release since (“Sun” and “Moon” for the 3DS can’t come soon enough!). I collected more than cards and games — I have a ridiculous stash of plushies and figurines I was obsessed with as a kid. (I never really stopped being obsessed. My trusty Sylveon made the journey to college with me.)
If 9-year-old me knew I was venturing into the real world to catch Pokemon, my mind would’ve been blown. And yet, it seems the series was always destined to go this way. The series transitions perfectly to an AR format. The original games are pretty much centered around travelling and catching Pokemon — putting that in the context of the real world isn’t much of a stretch. Not to mention, some features seem like they were made for AR in the first place — Eggs were originally hatched in-game after a certain number of steps your character took around their digital world; now, it’s based on your own pedometer.
In addition to Pokemon veterans and Nintendo nerds like me, the game has also attracted a lot of people who either haven’t touched the series since childhood or who have no knowledge of the series whatsoever. Vox has an article explaining why Pokemon Go was “destined to go viral” — mostly citing that people who grew up dreaming of being trainers switched out their handheld gaming devices for smartphones. It’s definitely not surprising that even new-to-Pokemon people are trying the game out, considering its current craze status and its free-to-play nature. Vox reports that for Android users, the app is on track to exceed Twitter daily active users.
Even if the download is free, Nintendo is still raking in profits on this game. There’s an in-game shop that allows you to purchase certain items (don’t worry, any of these that are necessary to play can be found for free at Pokestops). In addition, the company’s market value has already risen by $7.5 billion, according to The Verge.
Of course, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. The game has plenty of glitches, which end up in users reloading (and reloading, and reloading) their app to get it to work. Not to mention the immensely-annoying tendency of the servers to go down all the time, logging everyone out rendering the game unplayable for a short time until they’re up and working again. Hopefully these are typical bugs and problems that will be fixed after a few weeks.
One of the game’s more long-lasting problems is that it doesn’t tell its users, well, much of anything. Most of the information I learned about how to play the game come from reading many different articles. By far, I think this Reddit post has the best conglomeration of information out there, and in a well-organized fashion as well. If you’re in Columbia, another great resource is Mizzou’s official map of all Pokestops and Gyms on campus.
I still believe the pros far outweigh the cons. Users have cited the app as helping them overcome their depression or anxiety, by getting them out of bed and exploring. A 21-year-old woman with depression and social anxiety told BuzzFeed News: “Dealing with depression, it’s often really hard to find a reason to leave bed, or even home. I was was in a really bad low before I got the app … Pokemon was a huge part of my childhood and since the app came out it’s given me a great reason to get up and go.”