Pokémon, short for pocket monsters, sees players on quests to capture and raise various creatures for use in battle. Most of them are fanciful or whimsical versions of real life plants or animals, such as the fire fox, Vulpix. The games are fun and offer a nearly unprecedented amount of play time for those brave souls planning to complete them (and especially those who min/max them).
A cookie if you get this reference.
Sadly, we can’t just leave well enough alone. Any time something is popular, the local cockroaches come scurrying out of their holes to attack it. My favorite attack I’ve heard so far is from some virtue-signaling, bed-wetting, do-gooder who claims that this game is “unfair to special needs people” who may have trouble getting to every location because of their disabilities. There’s only one correct response to this line of (lack of) thinking, “Suck it up, buttercup!” Not everyone has a car either. For that matter, not everyone even has a device capable of playing the game. These leeches make me sick. Instead of blood, they suck the fun out of everything. Everything.
I know a girl who actually started dating a guy literally because of this game. They were at the same park and their paths kept crossing. They each noticed that the other was playing the game, so they got to talking, and wound up at a local bar (which happened to be a PokéStop) and continued both the conversation and the games. They took turns using lures so they could both benefit and they really got to know each other as a result.
Having said that, there are some genuine issues with the game. The first is one you’ve almost certainly encountered yourself. There are constant server issues. I do have a little sympathy for this, at least right now. This game’s popularity simply exploded! Niantic expected the game to do well enough to bring it to market, but nobody was prepared for it to take off like it did! Simply put, the servers just can’t handle it.
You actually see traces of this when you look up “professional” reviews on this game. There’s a pretty big rift between what critics think of the game and the actual users do. Most users love it, while most “pros” rate is between 4 and 7 out of 10 (with an average score of 6.7). Then again, you really shouldn’t trust places like Vox, Gawker owned Lifehacker, Destructoid, GameSpot, or Polygon anyway…
I'm sure you're familiar with this screen.
My biggest gripe with the game is that it will, in all likelihood, accelerate the pace of the death of handheld video games. Mobile games and 3DS/PSP games are night and day. I’m not saying mobile games are bad. Well, ok, they usually are… But the invisible hand of the market will go where the money is. I don’t want to get into the “casual vs. hardcore” debate in this already lengthy article, so I’ll cut this short, but the mass appeal of this game means higher profits and higher profit margins, so we’ll get more things like it. Nintendo has already stated that they want to release 4 more mobile games over the next year. This could be successful for something like Animal Crossing or Pikmin, but I shudder to think of how a Mario, Zelda, or Metroid mobile game will play out.
Next, let’s talk about the combat. I have a few minor beefs with this aspect of the game. It’s always a fine line you have to walk when you want a game to appeal to the masses. You can only make it so complicated. For example, you ever played Uno? Of course you have. Now, have you ever played Arkham Horror? The odds are much lower you’ve played that one. Why? It’s much more complex, and, as a result, it has more limited appeal. The game is great fun and you should check it out some time, but it perfectly illustrates my point. Now, the combat in prior Pokémon games wasn’t the deepest around, but GO greatly simplifies it. Still, I’m glad it’s there at all and it is an extremely important aspect of the game.
The game does a great job at taking what previously existed only within the game world and bringing it as close to real life as possible. The collecting, the combat, and, most importantly, the exploration have all been ported over to the real world! In the original game, there were 151 different ‘mon to catch (including Mew). Guess what! In this game, you can find those same 151! In the original video game, some Pokémon were easier to find than others. Different versions of the game, Red and Blue in the United States, or Red and Green in Japan, only allowed for certain monsters to spawn. And even then, certain pixilated pets were common, others rare, and even a few were totally unique. In the case of Mew, you had to win a contest (or cheat) in order to catch it! This is all reflected in GO. Need proof? How many Magikarp have you already caught? Now how many Zapdos? See what I mean? There are also 139 furries you can capture no matter where you are and 3 unique to your region (North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia).
Not all Pokémon are created equal. And even if they were, they certainly aren’t raised equally. Both nature and nurture are important in this game. With a little stardust and candy, you can level up your organisms. If you’re short on candy, you can always return your varmints to the professor, which I assume is a euphemism for sending them to the glue and dog food factory. Higher levels mean higher power, which you’ll want in order to control the various gyms in your environs. When you reach level 5, you get to choose a team (Team Instinct FTW!), which really only matters for gym battles. When you erase the current team’s prestige at a gym, your team gains control of it. As you win battles, you decrease your rivals’ prestige. Knock it all the way down to zero and the gym is yours. This King of the Hill style of gameplay is a fun way to mirror how gyms work from the source material.
You know a game is popular when it gets invoked by our 102 year old politicians. If you can stand the cringe factor, Hillary Clinton attempted a Pokémon GO joke on the campaign trail (watch the kids behind her for lulz!). There’s also a Pokémon GO ad the Donald Trump campaign has put out. Hilariously, Trump Tower is even a gym in the game! And America isn’t the only country to invoke Pokémon GO as it relates to politics. Saudi Arabia has issued a fartwa (not a typo!) against Pokémon. There go my dreams of catching a Snorlax in the Grand Kaaba…
Soylent Yellow is Pikachu!
And speaking of those servers, at least one outage was supposedly caused by PoodleCorp. They aren’t a hacktivist (DAMMIT!) group like Wikileaks, rather, they’re just out to cause mischief. While there’s some debate as to whether they actually did do this or not, they certainly did take over numerous YouTube channels recently.
I would argue that this is the game’s greatest success. It’s really bringing people together in significant ways! As someone who was raised on local multiplayer, “couch co-op” if you will, and arcades, it saddens me greatly that the social element of games is all but dead. Yeah, I know, it’s basically required that games have an online multiplayer component, but it’s not the same. The anonymity of the internet means it quickly devolves into one of three things: the sexual conquests of other players’ mothers, homophobic tirades, or racist rants. If you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll encounter all three…
A perfect likeness, amirite?
What’s with all these whippersnappers running around everywhere on their newfangled cellular telephones trying to catch these pukumans all about? Is it some new STD (wrap it up, kids!)? Ok, I obviously know what Pokémon is (I even know the alt-code to put the accent mark over the e!). Any kid who grew up during the closing decade of the last millennium knows it (and a few people who were, supposedly, a bit too old to enjoy it then… Not that I know anybody like that…) Hell, anyone who’s drawn breath since the mid 90s has at least heard of this behemoth. But, suddenly, it’s everywhere again, and it’s an even bigger juggernaut (bitch!) than it was when kids like me went nuts for it 2 decades ago! Why? Pokémon GO, that’s why! If you have a topic you'd like us to cover at The Culture Cache, become a donor through Patreon and we will get right ot it. The one was requested by Patreon donor, Jenni B, so let’s explore it a little further, shall we?
Oh, waiter? There's a Dratini in my soup.
Some keen businesses are actually using this game as a form of marketing. These savvy folks see the lures as an investment and actively use the game and its in-game items as a means of increasing traffic to an area. I’m sure it won’t be long before some commercial enterprises seek out Nintendo to try to get their establishments in the game as PokéStops or gyms. While you might be a little upset at the notion of real world advertising like this seeping into your escapist hobby, keep in mind that this is a free to play game. Events like this keep it that way. I know McDonalds has already thrown its hat in the ring for this very idea and there’s already an infrastructure there since it’s a 3DS Streetpass Relay point.
Most of the complaints people have simply aren’t justified. They come from your resident buzzkills who just can’t stand that anybody else is having a good time. Just tell them to shut the Muk up and go back to enjoying your game. After all, I constantly have to hear about the latest sportsball games I don’t care about, so how is this any different? With all the negative news that 2016 has so generously shared with us so far, is it any wonder a positive game like this has caught on? Hmm… Terror on the rise, targeted assassination of cops, deaths of beloved celebrities, the knowledge that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States… Yeah, I think I’ll go with my escapist video game, thanks.
I finally managed to evolve that Magikarp!
After playing Pokémon GO.
Named after Jackie Chan!
But there’s something I truly respect and it’s the litmus test I use for all FTP games. It is entirely possible to do literally everything in the game without spending any real world money on it. You know what that means? DON’T SPEND ANY MONEY ON IT! After all, why feed the Google (they are partial owners as well) beast when you don’t have to? Apparently, I’m in the minority on this one, though, as the game has averaged $1.6M in sales per day since its release…
Before playing Pokémon GO.
If you leave your dirty dishes out, they'll attract Venonats!
Why did the Rhyhorn cross the road?
Probably best to leave Trigglypuff in the wild...
Of course, businesses aren’t the only PokéStops and gyms out there. Pokémon GO is actually increasing cultural awareness! Many churches, museums, points of historical interest, and sports arenas are places the game actively drives you toward. This is a wonderful bi-product of having fun! Catch a Dragonite and bone up on your knowledge of The Constitution at the same time! Of course, use your best judgment. The 9/11 Memorial and the Holocaust Museum don’t want people there catching critters, so please respect those wishes. Having said that, plenty of churches and other venues really do want you to visit, just be mindful of their primary purposes. I liken it to The Alamo. By all means, visit The Alamo! Just remember that it’s a fully functioning church. Don’t go there and be a touron – a combination of a tourist and a moron. Dammit! I just used one of those stupid words!
Make Lavender Town great again?
Believe it or not, this game has even helped solve some crimes! At least 2 dead bodies have been found by curious creature seekers. One intrepid individual was wondering around a building trying to catch a beastie when he encountered some punks vandalizing the place. The game even continues to help indirectly, as some locations, as discussed in the last paragraph, are places of particular importance. As a result, the increase of foot traffic in these locations has also led to an increased police presence to secure them.
One of the cooler aspects of how they integrated this is that you tend to find appropriate animals based on your location. Looking for a Goldeen? Then A) you are clearly not playing Smash Bros. and B) check out some nearby bodies of water. Time of day, physical location, and even local weather patterns affect what you’ll find. I grant you that it’s far from perfect (Magikarp seem to be almost literally everywhere…), but I like the idea behind it.
But not all of the technical woes come from outside sources. Did you actually read the EULA when you started the game? I bet you didn’t… Be honest… Yeah, we both know you didn’t, and I didn’t either. Had we done so, we’d both have realized that we have “voluntarily” chosen forced arbitration should we incur any damages as a result of this game. And given my previous paragraph about hacking the servers, this really could happen. To say nothing of the data we constantly turn over simply by playing the game. I hesitate to label it as the harbinger of totalitarianism that Oliver Stone calls it (who, in a completely unrelated matter, has a movie about Edward Snowden coming out…), and if you have any form of social media, you’re already doing this, but it’s still a valid criticism. Oh, and the game drinks your battery.
Would it help if I said, "Magical Girl Pretty Sammy?"
In all seriousness, though, this game really has done a lot to get cushion-riding sofa surfers up and active! Because you have to actually GO to places in order to catch your ‘mon and replenish your supplies, it’s fair to say that this game really does have some health benefits. And they’re not all physical either. Pokémon has always been a social game and this game quintuples down on that! I’ve already covered the team element and how it factors into gyms, but there’s a societal aspect of the game that’s not directly related to the game itself. Because it is population based, you’re much more likely to find people playing the game at the various PokéStops and gyms. Go ahead and talk to them! You clearly have at least one common interest!
But the real bread and butter of the game is how is converts the video game exploration into real life. I can’t say this is done perfectly, but it is done very well. It’s built using the data from Niantic’s (developer of Pokémon GO) previous game, Ingress. This means that population is extremely important. I’ll start with the bad. In Pokémon lore, the collectable creatures are rarely found in cities. This makes sense. When you encounter them, you always get the message, “A wild (name of Pokémon) appears!” Get this. You typically find them IN THE WILD! However, in GO, because of the population algorithm, it seems the beasts have become quite domesticated.
An animal shelter came up with a creative proposition. They’d lend out dogs for you to walk while you were racking up distance to hatch your in-game eggs. What ended up happening was a small miracle. So many people saw the dogs being walked and got curious that the shelter literally ended up finding homes for every single dog they had! This is wonderful!
The game uses the GPS feature of your phone to determine your location. You can see where pokémon are located on the in-game map. If you go to that place in real life, you can get the marketable little mascot into view and toss a pokéball its way in an attempt to catch it. Don’t waste your pokéballs, though. They’re limited and they cost you real money to replace!
Indeed, this is a free-to-play game. As South Park taught us (s18, e6), “Freemium Isn’t Free.” You can play the game without any investment, but there are certain in-game premiums you have to pay for, such as more pokéballs, eggs, incubators, incense, etc. There’s even a soon to be released Pokémon GO Plus, which is akin to a dedicated 35 dollar smart watch for this game. Nintendo’s stock has literally doubled since the release of the game, and they only own a 32% stake in it!
Pokémon GO is an AR, or augmented reality, game that allows these creatures to become digital denizens of our own real world. While running the game, point your device’s camera at something and there may just be a Pokémon lurking about. I’m not going to go super in-depth on the actual gameplay because, let’s face it, either you’re already one of the 30 million people playing the game or you’re never going to play it anyway. Yep! This game has a higher install base than Twitter (and given Twitter’s recent hostility to free speech, that’s a good thing)! This game was even more searched for than porn! I didn’t even know that was possible on the Internet! Could this merging of the Internet and reality make this the game that is the real life equivalent to the OASIS from Ready Player One?
As far back as I can remember, this makes me think of that Animaniacs episode where The Goodfeathers had to defend the statue of Martin Scorsese.
Huh. And here I would have guessed I'd see Ground types at a place called King Tut's.
Only 397 Margikarp candies to go!
The pros greatly outweigh the cons, though. The most obvious is that this game qualifies as “exergaming.” That’s one of those weird, trendy buzzwords we use that means what each part of the word means separately, but we blend them together, apparently because we’re too busy to actually say both words. I mean, c’mon, “exercise gaming” just sounds silly. Clearly “exergaming” is soooo much better. See also Instagram, proactive, bootylicious (stop picturing me!), emoticon, cankles, mansplaining, and any other one of these inane, stupid words I couldn’t bring myself to type here.
You even find a few physical dangers related to playing this game. Inattentive people have managed to harm themselves in all manner of creative ways, but it’s not really fair to say it’s the game’s fault. These same idiots will be the ones who walk into open manholes because they’re paying more attention to facebook than their surroundings. You know the types. The ones who rear end someone because they’re texting while driving. The game may provide the means to do this, but if it wasn’t Pokémon GO, it’s be something else.
It’s the face to face nature of this game that lets it duck all that normal nastiness. In fact, the only traces of it I see are ONLINE. Some people take the allegiance to their team waaaay too seriously. But other than that, it really seems to bring back gaming with friends, and for that, I am grateful. I even heard of a brother and sister who didn’t get along all that well. She was a shut-in and he was really outdoorsy. While the impetus was only to play Pokémon GO, she wanted to join him on his next hunting trip. This game helped bring a brother and sister together. Literally!