I first caught Pokémon fever back in the late ‘90s and dove headfirst into this cultural phenomenon. I started by watching the show, but quickly moved into playing the videogames, watching the movies, even trying my hand at the trading card game. My dream, like most of my peers, was to “Catch ‘em all,” striving to capture all the creatures, starting with the original 151. I truly enjoyed this quest and it became a great bonding experience with my younger brother. However, there was always a bit of a disconnect. Pokémon, despite my fervent wishes and prayers, only existed in the confines of a fictional world. I longed for a deeper connection with it.
Enter Pokémon Go.
Over the last few days, my Facebook feed has been full of news about the game. What makes this one different from the more than a hundred before it is where it takes place. Pokémon Go takes place in our world. Players design their avatar and then explore the world around them, looking for Pokémon to capture, other trainers to battle, and gyms to challenge.
Where you find the creatures depends on their natural habitat. Looking for a water-type? Go to the local pond or river. Want a bug-type? Head to a park or the forest. The free-to-play game uses the built-in GPS of a smartphone or tablet to detect where you are.
This is an Augmented Reality Game, meaning that it needs to be experienced out in the world. Players interact with their environment, forcing them to explore their neighborhood and its surroundings if they want to play the game well. This encourages healthy activity and engagement with the surrounding world.
Moreover, it is possible to take pictures of the Pokémon you encounter over the background of your device’s camera. The internet is full of images of people finding Pokémon in the real world. The images are full of joy and creativity.
Another element present in the games is a feature called Pokéstops. While a person could play the game on his or her own, it’s not very effective. These areas allow players to gather in a specific location in order to gather the necessary items in their attempt to catch more Pokémon. More likely than not, multiple players will run into each other at these meeting places.
While there, a conversation begins about what a person has caught and where to find rare Pokemon. These conversations begin to create a community around the game and around the greater Pokemon fandom.
I am encouraged by this release and the phenomenon it has become in such a short time. I have not experienced this much pride surrounding Pokémon since I was ten. Pokémania once again has swept the US. As the game continues to be refined and released across the world, only time can tell what it will become.
I think one of the biggest reasons it has caught on so quickly is that it touches so deeply what we felt as children. There was a magic to the world of Pokemon, and now we have the opportunity to tap into that magic and make it a part of our lives in a new way. More than that, we can share it with the world in a way that was not possible twenty years ago. So, to all the people out there playing, may you fulfil your (childhood) dreams of becoming Pokémon masters. Go and be the very best, like no one ever was.
Photo credit Doris Yu, The Jesuit Conference