I’m not quite sure this is a post specifically written for the game dev community, but Pokémon GO is an undeniable phenomenon taking place out there right now that nobody saw coming, and it is raising lots of questions even by those who are not into games unlike you and myself.
Take a look at your facebook feed and you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are the ones annoyed by all that noise and many of them are currently trying to come up with theories to reassure themselves that this is just another silly trend they shouldn’t waste their time on –
by impressing others with a pseudo-intellectual discourse in the meantime. And there are also the ones looking at the bright side claiming this is the best mobile game ever because it is bringing people together and helping them exercise: a dream come true for parents who wanted their kids to get off the couch and enjoy the sunshine – unless this makes it easy for them to stumble across dead bodies or to get robbed.
Although, generally speaking, this could be a case study for the game dev community to focus on with an entrepreneurial and a technical interest, I would only like to emphasize here the points raised by such an interesting cultural global phenomenon that transcend game dev in many ways and become a thing in the everyday conversations of friends, family and coworkers. In other words, let’s just talk a little about the polarization of opinions I pointed out above. If anything, you can maybe use the ideas brought up here to talk to people of both sides of this controversy.
So you hate Pokémon GO and its players?
“This is just for kids”, “What’s the use of going out hunting for virtual creatures?”, “Real men don’t play that s***t”, “You should be reading a book instead”, “At your age, I’d be …”. These are just some of the things the haters are saying. And if I were in the shoes of the ones hearing that, I’d certainly say:
No, this is not just for kids. I don’t know when we are going to finally overcome this generational conflict between the ones who grew up playing games and the ones who didn’t and who are now feeling an urge to tell the former ones how to lead their lives. Yes, many games are colorful, about super heroes and visibly marketed for kids. But who cares? Would a traditional chess player stop playing that old and great game if it suddenly became a thing also among the youngest ones and came in a more varied set of colors?
Show them some statistics to prove how the number of adult video game players is still very significant. Or forget about numbers: why do you have to show there are more people who think and act like you to prove your sanity? Game playing is a cultural trait present in many societies and the generational gap related to it seems to be mostly caused by differences on how young and older people choose to spend their leisure time. Seriously, if you want to be seen as an intellectual type, you don’t need to brag about the fact you’re not into a pastime that suddenly started to draw many people’s attention.
Although complex and expensive, the technology behind that game is already common to smartphone owners: a GPS-based map and a camera. With Pokémon Go, the magic is that your city is suddenly turned into a giant game board enabled by your smartphone abilities to lay over it a new layer of reality. Yes, reality! Augmented reality. It is indeed real as long as it makes sense to you and the others who can also play with it. And I’m not even talking about all the social interaction is is making possible among people. What if it is giving people who suffer from social anxiety one more reason to go out and talk to others? What if this is another game you can play with your family and friends on a Sunday afternoon at the park without the fear of being judged because “it’s too odd”?
There’s of course the downside of wandering around in dangerous areas of your town, but hey, let’s question our authorities about the safety of the places we live in. Shouldn’t this be another healthy outcome of this game? It’s funny how all that conversation wouldn’t be that necessary if Pokémon GO didn’t have that huge attention.
Ok, I get it, you’re actually in love with Pokémon GO
Let’s be realistic: would Pokémon Go still be a hit if it wasn’t for the fact that it is about, you know, Pokémons? The game theme taps into a global and powerful market that has been around for decades as one of the most lucrative media franchises. Most of the ones playing it now grew up watching its cartoons or playing its other games, and maybe never got tired of buying or at least stumbling across the many items found in the market continuously perpetuating its characters on our social imaginary.
With all that popularity, it wouldn’t be hard to convince investors that making a game under that name would certainly be a good business. And the developers knew it even before they were caught by surprise with its overnight success. Apparently, they were just not expecting it to be this huge global sensation.
However, don’t you think Pokémon Go haters (the ones who actually played it) have some reasons to dislike it? Since it is a game based on a known theme, there’s that ritualistic concept that pokémons exist to be caught and that’s it. This seems to be the most interesting experience provided by the game; something based on the obvious expectations of pokémon fans. There’s of course also the gym battles with awful mechanics and the need to walk 10 kilometers to hatch an egg; not to mention the randomness in which creatures can be found. So it doesn’t take many skills, but mostly repetition and good luck. This makes you think whether its merit lies on the game commitment to be an interesting and engaging activity or simply on one more pokémon experience added to the list of Pokémon everything licensed by the Pokémon Company.
What the haters are asking us to see is the mindless consumerism Pokémon GO seems to be part of, which reflects on the need to go out hunting for creatures also mindlessly. I think you get the point when you find out there are items like a pokémon towel, adult movies, mugs, bottles, these items only intended for readers over 18, etc.