Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not big on mobile games. I’ve never been fond of the grinding that many mobile games rely on, and never bought in to the ‘come back in 2 days to collect your reward’ dynamic that comes along with games like Clash of Clans. If I want to build up a castle and army to defend against invaders, I’d start up Age of Empires instead. I am more drawn to games with absolute closure, which you see more on console or PC games. The mobile games I’ve downloaded and enjoyed are puzzle-based games like Cut The Rope or Duet because the only real goal is to beat puzzles (and eventually the game), not to grind until you’re rewarded with the ability to grind more. If you are the kind of gamer who enjoys the return-for-reward style of mobile gaming, in which you must return to your game after a matter of time to continue playing or receive rewards, I’m not calling you inferior in any way. Video games as a medium appeal to people for different reasons, in the same way certain movie genres appeal to a variety of movie-goers. I’ve always loved that about the video game culture.
Recently, however, a little game was released, which you may or may not have heard of, called Pokémon Go. Go took the top spot for most downloaded app on both the Google Play Store and the App Store within 24 hours of its initial release. It’s already beating Tinder in terms of the number of active users, with analysts predicting it will be toppling Twitter’s active numbers in the immediate future. Pokémon Go has become so popular that it has inflated Nintendo stock by 25% in a rough year for the company. With so many people becoming enthralled by this game, I’d venture a bet that you’re periodically checking your phone for new Pokémon while reading this article, and that’s totally fine with me. Truth be told, I’ve been checking my phone while writing this trying to track down a Cubone who’s running around somewhere outside. Do you mind holding on a minute while I run outside and grab it?
I missed the Cubone unfortunately. I did catch another Rattata, though, and I could see one of the PokeStops nearby was buffed with a Lure while kids on bikes frantically rode to collect as many Pokémon as they could. If it was 24 hours earlier and I saw them racing to the PokeStop, I would have called them chumps for wasting time on an unpolished mess of a game, and gone back inside. Pokémon Go‘s rocky start and numerous bugs caused me to initially dislike the game. On the surface, it’s a giant grinding experience that has been cleverly paired with a popular license, while only borrowing the cosmetic factors from it.
When I first downloaded the game it crashed immediately, which is a common bug from what I’ve heard from other players. When I was finally able to play the game, everything felt like it was going along smoothly. Gamers are greeted by Professor Willow who gives the nostalgic spiel about how we live alongside Pokémon, and then tasks you with collecting as many of these familiar creatures as possible to help him with his research. After this, you don’t receive any other explanation about the game until you reach level 5. You are expected to learn how to find Pokémon, catch them with the shrinking circle mini-game, get items from PokeStops, and incubate eggs. Besides, what in the world is CP and Pokémon Candy? Why does that level them up? I’m the kind of gamer who likes to work towards mastery, and when the only way to learn mechanics is with Google, it’s poor game development.
I was also incredibly irritated by the game’s many bugs. Pokémon Go was in a closed beta since late March (in the U.S.), and players in the beta have reported that they had specified these common issues to the developer, Niantic, and nothing was fixed. While I can’t blame Niantic for server issues, because they do happen and it’s hard to predict server load, common issues like PokeStops not dropping items or gym Pokémon not taking damage past 1 HP should have been a high priority to resolve before launching the game. That was, and still is, my largest problem with Pokémon Go: the number of game-breaking bugs that are present after so much beta testing and bug reporting.
After reaching level 5, and picking Team Valor (bring on the hate!), I went to challenge the gym and was surprised by the lack of turn-based combat that Pokémon is known for. This is my number two objection with Pokémon Go: it doesn’t actually include Pokemon dynamics from the original games. We can catch the creatures we’ve all loved since the 90’s, but it’s all cosmetic. Catching Pokémon doesn’t actually involve training your team to be able to stand up against other wild Pokémon. Instead, you throw a Pokeball at it as if the entire world is the Pokémon Safari. Again, what is Pokémon Candy? I’m not sure why this makes them evolve and gain CP. Part of the thrill of Pokémon games is to train your Pokémon and form a bond with them through the game. You see them become strong and you tackle obstacles together because of the hard work you put into training them. Since the beginning, Pokémon has been preaching the importance of building friendship with your team, and I hardly see how what are essentially Rare Candies define the franchise. There are numerous other things in Pokémon Go that take a very loose interpretation of the Pokémon games, however the ones listed above, I feel, are the most basic.
I was clearly not enjoying my time with Pokemon Go. My wife, who is as into Pokémon as I am, made me get into her car and drive around so we could collect items from PokeStops. During this time, I saw more children playing with each other outside than I ever had in that neighborhood, and running around laughing and having a good time. Now, as much as I disliked some of the quirks of Pokemon Go, I had to admit that this was pretty incredible. As we settled in at a PokeStop, a young girl ran up to our car and asked if we were playing Pokémon Go, and then proceeded to playfully give us grief for driving around instead of walking. This little girl, who I would have paid no mind to otherwise, demonstrated the redeeming factor of Pokémon Go: because Pokémon is a franchise that is has such a large and diverse fan-base, it has the unique potential to create local communities of Pokémon trainers. When we drove down to the marina by our home to place a Lore, I saw what I could only describe as a legion of trainers get in on the action. Soon after, we saw a Team Mystic controlled gym being contested by Team Valor trainers and we cruised over to help our posse gain control. After a satisfying victory, a group of people with whom we had never interacted before shared a round of high-fives and fist bumps for a job well done. From there I was hooked. If a game, as buggy and inconsistent with its source material as Pokémon Go is, could bring a group together in the way that I had witnessed, it could be something special.
If you take the time to make the experience exceptional, then you will be rewarded in incredible ways. Not only are you going to find some cool Pokémon, but you might also share an experience with someone you otherwise would have ignored. While the game is still one of the grindiest I’ve ever played, I was rewarded with so much more than in-game progress. This is why Pokémon Go deserves your attention. The bugs are irritating, but they will hopefully pass. The gaming community have been vocal about their issues with the game, and Niantic has assured players that they are hard at work addressing the bugs. For now, go out and catch some Pokémon, conquer some gyms, and make some friends. After all, Pokémon has always tried to teach us the importance of making friends and building relationships, now it’s on us to go out and be the trainers we were taught to be.
What’s your most memorable Pokémon Go experience? What’s the coolest thing you’ve done while searching for that rare Pokémon? I want to hear your Pokémon stories in the comments below!