You might’ve noticed people looking down lately, walking in frantic circles, or perhaps even acting a bit territorial over seemingly trivial public places, all the while being glued to their pocket-sized boob tube. (Granted, you’ve possibly spotted a tablet or two.)
Pokémon GO – the mobile application responsible for the aforementioned hysteria – was an overnight success thanks to a rather delicious blend of novelty, accessibility, and nostalgia. Even the uninitiated know only the very best can catch’em all; most of us want to be the very best, don’t we?
Pop culture has a lot to do with peer pressure. It’s not a bad thing, tuning in to the hive mind now and again, and online media has only made it easier to do so. Despite this, it is still rather rare for a video game to splash outside of its intended circle of players, a phenomenon previously observed with titles like The Sims and Guitar Hero, yet Niantic’s monster-catching app debuted at a rolling boil.
As the developers struggles with popularity that has proven too hot for its servers to handle, PoGO’s player base struggles with remaining patient. Some feel burnt by the latest update, a patch that removed the game’s integral-yet-unstable tracking feature. Others are chilling in Camp Wait’n’See – it beats being salty, trust me – but, love it or hate it, Pokémon GO has changed the landscape of mobile gaming.
Today’s article will conclude with an in-depth rundown of the gameplay experience, brought to you by Black Ship staff writer Andrew Dearborn, though first I felt compelled to emerge from the editorial sidelines to address this latest ripple in the black mirror.
Our reality is governed by how we experience it. Not to fall down the red-pill/blue-pill rabbit hole, but things got a bit less real in 2016. Two methods of digital abstraction are emerging thanks to the incessant march of the entertainment-technological complex, with both approaches contending for our ever-dwindling attention spans – augmentation and virtualization.
Virtual reality is a household term thanks to its prevalence in science fiction and the arrival of immersive devices such as Oculus Rift and its slew of similar headsets. The idea here is to “turn on, boot up, [and] jack in” to a cyberdelic experience, the ramifications of which have been explored long before V.R. ever became available to consumers.
Augmented reality, however, has snuck up on us. While there are certainly works of fiction that embrace the concept, it is almost always featured as a world-building element. (For a delightful exception, check out the short film Sight.) There have even been a handful of games with A.R. functionality before Pokémon Go, including Niantic’s proof-of-PoGO-concept, Ingress, though none made it into the mainstream.
The current hype has a lot to do with the game’s recent launch, sure, and we can expect a shrink in the player base (currently around 20 million), but walking around town these last few weeks has been a surreal experience.
We’re used to tuning out strangers in public. Cell phones are perfect for that. With the rise of networked, AR-driven, interactive media, an interesting contradiction emerges. You can play Pokémon GO without ever physically interacting with another human being. Yet there is an innately social mechanic driving the game, that being the inclusion of team-based gym battles.
Once you complete the game’s early orientation levels, your avatar is given the opportunity to pick from one of three factions. This in and of itself is an interesting experiment in personality profiling, one that has awakened many a player’s tribal instincts; it is where PoGO’s social paradox begins to take shape.
Walking around with your phone out, formerly a “do-not-disturb” signal, suddenly implies you are likely out on a digital adventure. Others enjoying a similar walkabout feel an instant sense of camaraderie… just try not to mention which team you’ve chosen. If you do, prepare for some (friendly) heckling.
A virtualized representation of reality is driving the physical realm. A game with no real multiplayer component – even when you do participate in a gym battle, the defending Pokémon is controlled by the computer – is creating a sense of community that augments the way we socialize, all by virtue of our tacit consent.
This notion raises plenty of concerns, many of which are best explored in a more pessimistic piece. Questions of data-privacy will be the bread-and-butter of debates during the digital renaissance. Like it or not, most of us can carry a supercomputer in the palm of our hands, one that will increasingly entrench itself into our daily routines as its sophistication advances.
I’ll be the first to admit that I run the risk of burying my head in the pixelated sand but, for now, I’m simply happy to go hunting for pocket monsters. Oh, yeah, and one more thing: GO TEAM INSTINCT!
And now, without further idealized ado, Andrew’s review:
I started playing a new mobile game lately, you may have heard of it, Niantic’s Pokémon GO! This wildly popular, freemium, augmented-reality, flick-and-catch-collecting game is actually really fun. I have heard a lot of arguments — about how this really isn’t a game and it’s not really what we were hoping for — and they are kind of moot in my opinion. It’s a lot of fun and is a game that everyone from casuals to hardcore gamers can play and appreciate.
Let’s talk about my first week playing this game. I made it to level 14, have caught 52 Pokémon, and have walked over 20 kilometers hunting and hatching the little monsters. Admittedly I was really excited about this game and did hit it a little harder then I foresee myself doing in the future. But still, look at that last number. I walked over 20 km’s playing a damn game and I loved every single step.
It has gotten me and my girlfriend out of the house and exploring our neighborhoods, visiting literally dozens of parks, monuments, and businesses that I didn’t know existed. My local comic shop is even a pokéstop, a place where trainers get free loot for the game like pokéballs, potions, and eggs that hatch Pokémon. Hopefully being an in-game destination brings people into the business. More than anything I love the idea that I am physically out there looking for Pokémon.
So how do you play? Basically the game uses the GPS of your phone to track your location and cause random Pokémon to spawn around you, and then you can catch them by flicking pokéballs at them. The app uses the camera of your phone to make it look like the creature is right in front of you. Players then use their Pokémon to capture gyms and to level up other Pokémon and evolve them.
Items are obtained at the aforementioned pokéstops, although they can also be nabbed using the in-app store. Another great mechanic centers around hatching eggs. Trainers receive eggs from the stops; these eggs must be incubated by walking so many kilometers, apparently 2 kms, 5 kms, or 10. Couple that with the fact that specific Pokémon spawn in specific places, and you’ll soon find yourself going great distances to find different Pokémon. Apparently we will soon be able to trade with and battle other trainers as well. The gameplay is simple and engaging while also welcoming to all level of gamers.
Pokémon GO isn’t without its issues though. The constant grind of capturing and depositing Pokémon for candy in order to power up and evolve other Pokémon can be kind of a drag. It gets a tad annoying when you have caught, oh I don’t know, let’s say Drowzee a million freaking times to the point where you have 100 Drowzee candy and 25 super-powerful Hypno in your party. There are also odd lags and bugs that force you to reboot your game, sometimes causing you to lose a Pokémon you just caught or hatched.
There are also technical issues with the GPS tracking being way off and the entire game draining your battery pretty quickly. Finally there is also the weird and boring combat, where you literally tap the screen and try to dodge attacks you can’t see coming. There is room for improvement, though I think this is a great game. I really love the idea of getting people up and moving to explore their city. Be safe and catch ‘em all!