Nintendo has a habit of making us enjoy something new without realizing it was something we’ve wanted all along.
They did this with the original Super Mario Bros. Teaching us instinctively to move that short plumber from the left side of the screen to the right then forcing us to face a foe with no other action available but to jump. They showed us how to dance, bowl and drive a go kart in our living room instantly with a familiar looking controller. They also showed us that two screens on a hand-held can change the face of mobile gaming. Nintendo hasn’t had its shortage of failures but it’s because they dare to try something new in a marketplace where competitors are concerned with which chipset is bigger. This time they’ve landed another blow to competition by taking over the world again with Pokemon GO.
The game, which allows players to use their phone to capture Pokemon, has also captured their hearts while providing wonderful side effects such as exercise (take that Nike) and social interaction (What’s a Facebook?). Some people have even claimed to have found love (mostly physical love) and improved their mental health. The game has higher active users than Twitter, Tinder and Snapchat without even giving players a hint of what to do. No frills, no tutorials…and that’s the beauty of it. Most players who enter this space know what Pokemon is. They know the gist of what to do in Pokemon. You walk around and catch the little buggers. That’s exactly what players are doing.
Of course, there’s nuance and tricks to be learned but how do you learn those tricks? By interacting with other people and asking them questions. WHERE DID YOU FIND THAT PIKACHU?? or exchanging ideas on how to lure Pokemon to a certain spot. There’s an air of mystery wrapped in something oh so nostalgic and familiar. It brings people together because of it’s familiarity and the public acknowledgement that standing awkwardly in a park as a group needs to be talked about.
The game is packed with characters from the original game which any 30-year-old will start gushing about once they see Golem pop up on their desk at work. Nintendo and Niantic knew what they were doing from the start with their nostalgia play, which has netted the big N over $7 Billion in value in the past week not to mention actual cash from in-game purchases.
Okay, so there’s in-game purchases. You run out of Pokeballs, you can buy more Pokeballs. You want to evolve your Pokemon quicker, you can buy the chance to do that too. While the game is playable without diving into purchases, it can make the game feel quite unbalanced. Seeing players taking over gyms, which are often local landmarks, with over 1000 CP (Combat Power) on day one feels very discouraging. I never thought Pokemon would be the thing that made Capitalism feel all too real. Though the thrill of simply catching Pokemon is enough for most.
While it’s amazing that people are getting out into the open, the possibilities of exploiting the public distraction are all too real, as players have been robbed for their phones and goods. The game has an item that places a beacon on your location and lures Pokemon to that area for 30 minutes. Thieves have used this beacon to lure players to that spot; a real low-blow yet somewhat ingenious. With so much public attention, it was only a matter of time before something bad happened. Fortunately, it’s happening quickly so players can learn from those mistakes. There was a fake story being passed around of someone stopping in traffic to catch a Pokemon though it’s possible this could actually happen amidst all the excitement.
It’s a strange thing to talk about real world danger when it comes to a game. We’re having fun and it’s easy to get caught in the moment. The loading screen even says to be aware of your surroundings but science tells us we’re more likely to vulnerable when happy and engaged. It’s a tactic I used to employ as a poker player for quite some time. Get people comfortable, trusting and happy then they’ll never know what hit ‘em. That being said, it’s ideal to travel in larger groups or go to meet ups with positive like-minded people. Never use incense (the beacon item) at home or work to attract potential no-gooders. Don’t go out alone at night and be cautious when alone during the day. Please don’t drive while playing the game and in most cases you have to be very close to a location to access it, which would require you to get out of your car anyway. It’s especially important for parents to learn that this is a game where everyone is going to similar locations and to not let their kids go out alone.
Other dangers include server issues and your friends telling you you’re too old to have fun. One is solved by just waiting a while and the other is done by basking in the idea that you had a wonderful childhood filled with things that made you happy that you can still appreciate as an adult. Being able to have fun instead of drowning in the sea of adult misery is its own reward.
Public Service Announcements aside, there is a lot of fun to be had here and tons of potential for improvement. Unless you are out and about doing this, there isn’t much to this game just yet. There is potential improvement in the works to allow trading Pokemon to players and a faster app experience. For now, you can power up or evolve Pokemon on your own but that isn’t a worthwhile activity for very long. The crux of the game relies on you getting out there into the world to catch ’em all! It’s a unique situation for a company that is used to getting people to stay inside to play their games.
Nintendo has needed a win for quite some time and they finally have it with Pokemon GO.