Photo credit: The Oatmeal
It’s not every day that a video game encourages players to head outdoors and explore the world around them IRL. But over the last week, the sight of adults squatting and trying to capture imaginary creatures with their phones in all manner of bizarre locations has become a common one — and we have Pokémon Go to thank.
The first smartphone game from The Pokémon Company, Pokémon Go has resurrected the Pokémania of the early 00s for die-hard millennial fans who are now all grown up. The game uses augmented reality (with the help of your smartphone camera and geolocation data) to make it appear as if wild Pokémon are on the loose all over your town — and it’s up to you to catch ‘em all.
But while the game isn’t without its flaws (your phone’s battery life will certainly suffer), the real pleasure seems to come from the outdoor exploration element, which differentiates it from other gaming experiences. While players have the option to stay put and hunt for stray Pokémon behind the sofa or in the linen closet, the majority of fans (or “trainers” as they’re known in the game) have chosen to go looking for new specimens on their local bus route, in parks, and even at historical sites.
“Some reports have indicated that journeying beyond your own street is the key to finding rarer types of Pokémon, and it’s also the fastest way to access Pokéstops,” writes The Guardian’s Kat Brewster, who believes that the AR element makes up for Pokémon Go’s shortcomings as a game.
However, Pokémon have been popping up in some inappropriate places, with tourists attempting to catch them while visiting Auschwitz. And the game has already been proven to have dangerous consequences for a small number of its trainers; some criminals have staked out known Pokéstops in order to mug players. “Normally you wouldn’t go to a deserted alley at 3am,” an American police officer told ABC News. “That shouldn’t change just because an app said you should.”
There is also an argument to be made that Pokémon Go contributes to growing social inequality, as the game focuses on developed urban centres, excluding not just would-be players in rural areas, but also small business owners who might benefit from a nearby Pokéstop.
It’s safe to say that, as is the case with any other new release, Pokémon Go has its fair share of teething problems. But with the AR proposition keeping players actively engaged despite all manner of technical issues, The Pokémon Company might be onto a winner.
“It’s not just another mobile game, and it’s not another Pokémon game,” concludes Brewster. “It’s an entirely separate beast on the cusp of something vast; a glimpse into the future of widely accessible augmented reality.”