Sorry for the Game of the Year spoilers, but this can’t wait.
I’ve been playing Pokemon GO relentlessly for about a week now. There’s a lot to say.
First off, I’ve never seen any video game become a cultural phenomenon the way GO has in my life. Nothing even comes close. Pop songs, dance moves, and YouTube videos all become a part of the general pop culture lexicon. Your friend at work will show you Gangnam Style, then you’ll show someone, and soon that thing has half as many views as the population of the earth. But video games? Very, very rarely. Your mom may call and brag about her FarmVille and Candy Crush scores right before she sells her iPhone with Flappy Bird on it on eBay, but a game from a recognizable franchise? From Nintendo?
I had no faith in Pokemon GO. I’m too used to being hyped up and crashing back down when expectations crumble. There’s no way they could actually make the most perfect concept for a video game work. There was no way.
I’ve been staying out with friends until 6 in the morning hunting Pokemon throughout the real world… driving around to different towns and meeting other players doing the same. I was strolling through a park and a guy rolled up in a car and asked what team I was on, right before a guy across the park heard us chatting and shouted “POKEMON GO!!!!” I’ve asked myself a lot of questions over the past few days, but one sticks out more than the others: “HOW is this real life?” More than half of the people I see *anywhere* seem to be on their phones swiping Pokeballs up at Rattatas, traipsing behind Walmart to catch a Geodude, or cruising slowly through town to refill their bags at Pokestops. This game came out ONE WEEK ago. A week. That’s all it took. And the world is different now.
Can I tell you the last time I walked around the streets of my small town in the middle of Kentucky? No, I can’t. Nobody can. But they can now now. Just tonight on the way home, there was a meetup at our court square with more cars parked than I’ve ever seen there before in my life. Dozens of people were walking through town with similar goals in mind. Everyone was chatting up strangers that they’d never met before about a game that brought all of them together. I’ll be saying this again and again, but I’ve never seen anything like it before in my entire life. These people would have never met. I would have never talked to any of the 100+ strangers I’ve had conversations with this week without Pokemon GO. We would have stared at our phones with our headphones in, nodded as we passed on the way out of Walgreens, and never thought about each other again. Instead, now we scan every inch of visible area for someone looking at their phone. We run up to each other and ask about recent catches, levels, or whatever. We’re all a part of something now. And, at least for one short week in 2016, the whole goddamn wreck of a world was brought together over a phone game about cartoon animals.
Pokemon GO is a beautiful, wonderful thing.
All of that is said without mentioning how important this series is to so many of us. I’m 23 years old and remember begging my family to get Pokemon Yellow for me. I finally got it, and me and everyone else in my elementary school dumped all of our childhood hours into it. Into playing it. Into imagining Pokemon were real and pretending to be them on the playground. Into wishing we could stroll around with our friends to find a Pikachu and take him home with us.
There’s a Pikachu that I found at my college, and my friends and I all took him home. It’s real.
It’s silly how a fictional property can mean so much to so many people, but this one does. I’ve never been super into Star Wars, and Five Night’s at Freddy’s (wow that game is hugely popular) is a little after my time. But according to the number of people running around my city, the cities around me, and apparently all over the entire planet, this series means something to a lot of people. And the enthusiasm around it had drawn even more newcomers in. A thirty-something friend of mine with no prior interest in Pokemon has joined more than a few of our late night catching sessions just because it’s so much fun to run around and see what’s out there.
Is Pokemon GO actually a good game? I don’t know. Probably not. It’s repetitive and grindy in the way all MMOs are, and those who sink the most time into it end up with the best stuff. The promise of bigger and better features sound more appetizing every day, and maybe one day GO will be a genuinely good product outside of the social aspect. But right now, that’s a tough one to call. The dopamine hit of seeing a new silhouette and then having your friends all split up to narrow down its location is genuinely thrilling. But as for the rest… well, eh. The game’s actual mechanics aren’t what we’re all excited about. There’s very little in the gameplay that represents traditional Pokemon games in Pokemon GO, but the feeling of adventure is there. Moreso than it’s ever been.
I don’t know what else to say about Pokemon GO, except that I wish I was in town with that group of people playing it right now. This whole thing is going to end and everything’s gonna go back to how it was. I want to drain every ounce of magic left before this genie’s out of the bottle. I’m sure with content updates and new generations of monster being added that we’ll have a steady resurgence of hardcore players, but a huge chunk of the casual audience isn’t going to keep this up forever. I hope there’s enough to keep this fun for a long time coming, and I hope I’m not one of the first to get burnt out.
I can’t believe this game exists. We don’t deserve Pokemon GO. But we needed it.