POKEMON GO: the latest craze that has riveted the world.
Tapping on the nostalgia of the 1990s and combined with the newest advances in Augmented Reality, it has proven to be a cultural phenomenon that shows no signs of letting up. Pokemon Go has been heralded as a game changer for many reasons, representing a new frontier, both technically and socially. Unlike majority of its app counterparts, it is revered as a game that blends the digital and physical world together. Those who had grown up with Pokemon in the 1990s with the Pokemon animated cartoon, trading card game and Game Boy series, are now the millennials with time, cash and energy to spare.
The aim of Pokemon Go is to travel around your neighborhood (and ultimately the whole world) in order to catch the 151 original Pokemon. Aside from catching Pokemon, players can also level up their own Pokemon through gym battles, collect items from Pokestops for players to use and hatch Pokemon eggs. Along the way, players can interact with other players through battles or simply meet them on the street. Why? The crux of Pokemon Go lies in the fact that players need to move around their neighbourhood to be able to accomplish all these feats. Want to play the game? You have to go outside. Additionally, Pokemon Go tags important Pokemon stops to local landmarks, giving each area a distinct and unique feel. By mixing the goal of the game with the physical world (ie travelling further to catch different kinds of Pokemon), Pokemon Go has transcended the world of gaming and into our reality.
Supporters of Pokemon Go loudly proclaim the health benefits of Pokemon Go in encouraging people to step outside their homes. In terms of physical health, players are encouraged to wander outside their houses or neighbourhoods to explore new areas in hopes of uncovering a hidden Pokemon. One aspect of the Pokemon game takes it even further by requiring the player to walk about 2-5km in order to hatch an egg. This cannot be done while the player is in a car as it registers a speed limit. I must sincerely applaud the ingenuity of the game for helping many users to unknowingly clock in many hours of physical activity in moving around. The goal-oriented pursuit of the game helps to overcome the mundane task of walking 10,000 steps a day for health benefits.
In addition to physical health, Pokemon Go has been as a boost for mental health. Veering away from the traditional notion of apps and games, Pokemon Go does require a certain amount of face-to-face interactions. In playing the game, one would encounter large masses congregating at popular Pokestops or gyms. Even with people being largely invested in their own games, there is a sense of camaraderie and comradeship as people often share the locations of Pokemon around the area while sparking a feverish search. Central Park in New York for example, has seen large groups of Pokemon trainers all actively engaging with each other in the same destination. Many heartwarming tales have emerged about users sharing positive engagements with people that they rarely spoke to when they encountered each other playing the same game.
Critics point out that the game has made players suffer from a severe lack of situational awareness in their quest to be the very best. One Twitter user’s tongue-in-cheek tweet ‘Just remember if you die, you can’t Pokemon Go’ may be a satire comment on how people’s priorities have been drastically altered but it bears some truth. There is no denying that playing Pokemon Go on the move can make players concentrate on the game and pay no heed to their surroundings. Like Snapchat before it, users have gotten into accidents while using the app at the most inappropriate moments. Instances of players encountering mishaps while their heads were buried in their phones range from falling into ponds to getting mugged by opportunistic thieves. Even conscious decisions of running across the roads to get that Gyarados or purposefully strolling into an unlit alley at 3am to capture a Koffing are all cases of players being driven by Pokemon Go. Therefore when playing the game, a good dose of common sense and awareness is definitely needed.
This early stage of Pokemon Go has already been widely lauded to universal acclaim despite some minor hiccups. As it continues to develop and refine itself, Pokemon Go can utilize many existing features in the familiar Pokemon series to keep it fresh such as individual battles or expanding to the current 721 Pokemon. For now I, for one, will be gearing up to catch them all when Pokemon Go finally hits our shores.