On my way home from work this week, I saw a young boy walking with his dad. I saw him slow down, look at a phone in his hand, and then excitement came over his face and he turned and high-fived his dad. I smiled as I drove by, because I knew that little boy was out catching Pokemon with his dad.
Put simply, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game by Niantic. The free game allows you to walk around and, using your phone’s GPS, catch digital monsters called Pokemon. The basics of the game are simple: flick a Pokeball at the Pokemon on your screen to catch a Pokemon, collect as many as you can, trade in lower level creatures for items that let you power up others of the same type, and level up your character (your Pokemon trainer) as you go. Popular places in your area are Pokestops where you can walk by and collect items – more interesting and useful items show up as you level up – and the occasional local landmark is Pokegym where you can battle Pokemon and gain experience.
The Pokemon franchise was created by Satoshi Tajiri twenty years ago. What started as a video game for the Game Boy grew into a huge series of video games, a card game, a TV series and several movies. I grew up watching the original TV show with Ash, Misty, and Brock. Although I didn’t personally play the card game, a lot of kids I knew did. I did have Pokemon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 and spent many a summer day battling Pokemon with my brother (for some reason, I always battled with ghost Pokemon) and playing the silly mini games.
Nowadays, there are hundreds of Pokemon that span several generations and several TV show series. I’m not familiar with many Pokemon past the generation of Pokemon of the original series, but I do know that even then, Pokemon came in dozens of types and the strategy for battling them could easily get very complicated.
I feel a huge rush of nostalgia when I’m playing the game. The names of Pokemon I thought were no longer in my memory come back. I visited a Pokegym near my local library and there were more young people out than I normally ever see, even during summer vacation. Even so, I’ve seen both younger and older people playing it when I’ve been out and about. I think the appeal of Pokemon Go goes beyond nostalgia. Niantic has come up with a concept for an augmented reality game that mixes real life and digital elements that I haven’t seen done well before. And it’s a game that gets people outside and walking around. I’ve discovered landmarks that I never knew existed in my area.
I can’t wait to see how the game evolves.
Are you playing Pokemon Go? Did you have experience with Pokemon before you started playing? What else appeals to you about the game?