July 14th 2016
Today, against my better judgement, I downloaded Pokémon GO. (Please not that that will be the last time I pretentiously accentuate the ‘e’)
I picked Alice up after I finished work and she met me at the door all excited. “Jam, Jam. Have you downloaded Pokemon GO? It’s so good!” If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, let me explain quickly. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality smart phone version of the Pokemon games from when I was a kid. The technology is very current, and the concept is very new, but the content is full of nostalgia. And that’s an important factor that I’ll get back to.
Effectively you find Pokemon (if I need to explain what Pokemon is/are then I think you must be in the wrong place) by walking around your neighbourhood, finding Pokemon in the grass and throw poke balls at them to catch them. That is the same concept as he original games, but this time it’s actually you doing it.
Through your smart phone you look around a map of your local area (more on the technology later) and flush out wild Pokemon to catch. When you’re in the vicinity you can see them through the camera on your smart phone and you get to try to catch them.
The game was technically only released in the UK today, but it’s blown up. This week the game has been available through jail broken versions and back alleys, but it was only released on the official Apple App Store today.
I waited until today to download it because of everything I’d read about the jail broken versions. The unofficial versions would, if you clicked the “I accept the permissions” box, have complete access to everything on your phone. Your photos, your texts, your emails, probably your bank details. That was one of the reasons I was tentative about downloading it. The other reason is because of my addictive personality. I get wayyyyy too into every game I start playing and it becomes overwhelming and all consuming.
But, Alice wanted to play. So we went out and played.
Firstly, it is bloody good fun. The game is well designed, and a great throwback to my childhood. I think if they hadn’t’ve made the game exclusive to Pokemon from the original generation then it wouldn’t’ve done so well, because one main reason people are playing it is for the nostalgia. Although, Alice never played it as a kid and she still loved it for its immersive game play. And it is great in that sense, it gets you really involved in the game because your character on the screen follows your position on the earth. The real life aspect to the game is revolutionary, because it encourages you to go outside, to walk around. That’s never been done properly.
Where you walk, it walks. The augmented reality/map thing is a killer on battery life, and it drains your mobile data pretty sharpish – intentional, as the app makes money for using both your battery life and mobile data. They get a share of the money you pay for your electricity bill, and phone contract.
Since its release last week the game is estimated to have increased Nintendo’s net worth by $7.5 billion. And it’s worth bearing in mind that Nintendo only own 1/3rd of the Pokemon company. The game has more active users than Twitter. It’s massive.
Everywhere we went today we saw people playing it. It’s brought about this sort of community. “Are you playing Pokemon Go?” A guy stopped us and asked, and for the best part of 5 minutes we traded tips on where we’d each spotted and caught Pokemon. The unofficially titled “little shits” that hang out by the bridge in my estate had swapped the cigarette lighters for a pokedex. They gave us tips too.
I should mention that I, as a rule based on safety and also who I am as a person, do not speak to random people on the streets. But with the Pokemon mentality being harmless and collaboratively, I was trading training tips with a guy who I’ve never met before. All because we were both playing the same game.
As we walked to the shops (real, not virtual) and back we could tell all the people who were playing it. When my phone died (as it will) I looked up from my screen and instead watched as people walked (and drove) past us with their eyes flittering between the map on their screens and the bushes in the 3D version of the game (aka real life).
It reminded me of a Doctor Who episode where everyone in the human race has been taken over by this craze, and we all spend too much time looking at the phone and we end up as zombies. And then the app turns evil like in Kingsman: The Secret Service and starts to kill everyone.
It’s drastic, but that’s what it seems like. Like it’s taking over the world. And it is, and bad things are already happening. There have been thefts, kids lured to certain locations by the promise of Pokemon and then robbed of their phone by opportunistic (and surprisingly enterprising) thugs when they get there. People have broken into building and cemeteries trying to get closer to Pokemon they can see on the map that aren’t actually there in real life. One kid accidentally discovered a dead body whilst searching for a Pidgey.
It’s a craze that has completely taken over normal life. And it’s probably the best and most brilliant (and equally terrifying and sinister) business idea since the advent of the Internet. And that’s not an exaggeration. It’s that big. And it’s revolutionary in the way that it requires full time dedication to a game, whilst also encouraging being outside. (Unless you find a weedle in your wine glass)
Until tomorrow, catch them all.