I’ll admit it. When “Pokemon Go” came out I was a bit skeptical of it despite playing the old Gameboy Color games to death as a kid.
The day after it was released, I was walking through Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill joking with my friend about the massive groups of people standing around staring at their smart phones. But after downloading the game a few days later, I guess the joke’s on me. “Pokemon Go” is a blast.
Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past week, you’ve likely heard something about the enhanced reality game that’s taking the country by storm and which has boosted Nintendo’s bottom line by some $9 billion dollars, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Stories of criminals using the app to lure people in and steal their phones also emerged, and on the surface it may be hard to figure out what all the hysteria is about if you didn’t grow up playing Pokemon. So I’ll try to explain.
“Pokemon Go” basically takes the core idea of the franchise and translates halfway into the real world. Players known as “trainers” roam parks, sidewalks and businesses searching for creatures to capture and collect. When a Pokemon is close to a trainer, their phone alerts them and a rendition of the creature is superimposed over one’s surroundings using the phone’s camera. Players then furiously swipe at their phone screen to capture the creatures.
You can also join one of three teams and enter into battles at destinations determined by the game known as gyms. If your team captures a gym, other team’s players try to beat your team, securing the location and gaining points.
It’s the same premise as the ever-popular console games. The catch? You have to physically show up to the locations.
The morning after I downloaded the game I decided to see what the local training scene was like. I started out at Bothell’s PCC Natural Market parking lot and quickly came across multiple Pokemon, so I decided to check out some other spots.
There’s a gym at Country Village outside of Toys That Teach next to a mural of a rocket ship and multiple other spots where people can swing through and pick up items. Many of these are located at historically significant locations which include a picture and sometimes a brief description of the spot.
For example, one is located at the Schitzelbank in Kenmore and others can be found at memorial plaques and benches at the Park and Bothell Landing.
Teresa Howard, owner of The Practical Sparrow at Country Village, said people have been playing around the artisan shop destination.
“I have seen some people wandering around, I think it’s great,” she said.
It’s good to see people getting outside and talking with each other, she said.
I decided to swing by St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore to see if I could pick up some more Pokemon and talk with some trainers, but the stop illustrated one of the biggest problems with the game: connectivity.
My phone service provider doesn’t have the greatest coverage, but I still had bars as I walked around the park. However, the game wasn’t able to connect to the GPS system it uses to generate the in-game, real-world map and locations, which have been experiencing some issues lately. I didn’t see any fellow trainers, so I headed out in defeat and swung by Juanita Beach Park on my way back to the office which proved to be much more productive.
As I was walking down to the waterfront, a kid rode up and jumped off his bike, excitedly asking me if I was playing too. He said he’d caught some rare Pokemon a few minutes ago and that I should head down to the pier.
On my way, I noticed a group of three teenage boys huddled around a bench swiping at their phones.
They said they’d been playing a lot since the game came out. One of them said before it was released he had been spending most of his summer inside.
“It’s definitely a good way to get outside,” said Nick, who wanted to go by his first name only.
While the game is based around walking, they occassionally used a car. But to unlock some Pokemon, players are required to actually walk, sometimes as much as 10 kilometers, a goal one of the teenagers said he was shooting for.
As we were talking, a woman walked by and asked us how the game was going.
Maybe in a fierce political season marked by societal unease and prolific acts of violence, part of the success of the game is it’s ability to bring people together and to start friendly conversations.
And so, as a former skeptic, the game has won me over. While many of the mechanisms are rudimentary and will need to be improved, the game is showing that American gamers will likely see similar games in the future.
Moreover, the nostalgia of this game for anyone who grew up with these characters, coupled with taking it to the real world feels like the culmination of my wildest 10-year-old dreams.
As N, the leader of Team Plasma in the Black and White Pokemon games once said:
“You said you have a dream… That dream… Make it come true! Make your wonderful dream a reality, and it will become your truth! If anyone can, it’s you!”
Thanks for understanding, N.