Though Subtly, Pokémon Has Introduced VR Gaming to the World
By targeting a tech-savvy demographic and capitalizing on social media acclaim, the app introduced a new type of gaming phenomenon overnight.
By Shiloh McKinnon, Reed College
I have been playing pokémon since I’ve had the devices to play it.
I started with the show and figurines, but as I got older and finally got a Gameboy Advance, I started playing the games too. When I was in 4th grade, I lent my Pokémon Emerald cartridge to one of my friends overnight so he could get me through a difficult obstacle course that I needed to clear for the legendary Rayquaza.
Years later, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon came out. The game transformed you into a pokémon, and, with your best friend and the help of the other pokémon you encountered, told you to save the world. The Mystery Dungeon games, became my favorite series. I loved how they made me feel like a part of the pokémon world. So maybe you can imagine how I felt when Pokémon Go was first released.
Or maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you were like me, who, upon hearing that the game was released for Androids, continually checked Facebook and the App Store while waiting for Pokémon Go to become available for the Iphone. Maybe that’s your story too. Even if it’s not though, Pokémon Go is probably affecting your life.
Welcome to Cyberspace
To begin with, Pokémon Go is the most popular, though not the first, accessible virtual reality technology available right now. The app combines the GPS and camera features of a person’s phone to make pokémon appear in real life—you can walk around, raise your phone and see an eevee chilling in your driveway. And of course there are the pokéstops, landmarks (usually murals, churches or sculptures) where players can go to refill on pokéballs, items and even get pokémon eggs.
The real world is part of the video game, in a way that I’ve seen on television and in sci-fi books, but never in real life before. Pokémon Go is the first major foothold of a cyberpunk future we have, which is an exciting thought on its own, even without considering the massive nostalgia within my generation (and excitement for somewhat younger kids) that pokémon creates.
I guess that’s why it’s currently the #1 free app on the apple store right now.
And the intersection between the app’s massive popularity and its interaction with the real world is forcing even people who couldn’t give less of a shit about pikachus and dragonites to acknowledge Pokémon Go.
“Charizard is Not an Excuse for Trespassing”
On the day of its release, when only Android users and Australians had the app, the Darwin Police Department posted to their Facebook: “For those budding Pokemon Trainers out there using Pokemon Go—whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokestop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the pokeballs.” Then, because safety is a big concern with this app, they added, “It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch ’em all!”
“Stay safe and catch ‘em all!” seems to the be the rallying cry of “responsible adults” as far as the app is concerned.
Cell phone use while driving is a huge problem, one that multiple studies and add campaigns have been devoted to, and Pokémon Go isn’t helping matters. When visiting local landmarks and traveling as far as you can is the way to catch the rarest pokemon, its easy to see how getting in a car and driving with the app open becomes an attractive option. The Tennessee Highway Safety Office was concerned enough about “pokémon go-ing and driving” that they created this ad, which shows a driver paying attention to a pidgeotto in the road rather than the semi about to crash into him.
Luckily, the ad is more dramatic than real life. Though the threat of “go-ing and driving” is unfortunately real, pokémon don’t spawn on freeways. To combat the danger, people are trying to popularize a new task for those riding in shotgun—pokémon catcher.
In fact, having a buddy while playing Pokémon Go isn’t such a bad idea in general. Already, teenagers have discovered that they can use lures—items bought with real money that attract pokémon to an affected pokéstop—to literally lure people into armed robberies. So far the problem is local to St. Louis and St. Charles, but it makes the buddy system make sense. And maybe having a friend will help some kids make better decisions about just how worth it trying to catch certain pokémon is. As the Phoenix Police made clear, “Charizard is not an excuse for trespassing.”
Not everything is so dreary though. It’s true that teenagers are being nuisances because of Pokémon Go, but teenagers are nuisances anyway. More exciting is social and business potential of the app.
Making Friends and Influencing Trainers
Speaking of the buddy system, Pokémon Go has incredible social potential, especially for introverts and nerds who find it difficult to talk to people they don’t know. If you encounter someone hunting a pokémon in the same area as you, you automatically know one thing about them—they like pokémon too.
I was hanging out with one of my friends yesterday, teaching her how to use the app because she didn’t have the twelve years of pokémon knowledge that I used to breeze through the tutorial. I was saying something about the comparative rareness of pidgey and bulbasaur when a girl and her friend walked up and asked, “Is that Pokémon Go? Because you know, there’s a pikachu somewhere around these two blocks.” She and her friend had somewhere to be, so they didn’t stick around, but later when my friend and I got excited over a growlithe in a park, a guy nearby was like “I know, it’s so cool!”
As two self-confessed introverts, I think that’s the most social interaction my friend and I have ever had with people we didn’t know.
And it was all possible because of Pokémon Go.
There’s even a group at my college that is posting pictures of their exploits, information about rare pokémon near campus and, of course, some good, old fashioned, team rivalry.
One Pokéstop Shop
Even business owners are starting to see the bright side of Pokémon Go. Many local businesses have found themselves to be pokéstops, and Forbes.com published an article explaining how these shops can capitalize on all the foot traffic that status will get them, especially during off hours.
And that’s not just a pipe dream. A number of museums have whole-heartedly embraced the pokémon catching spirit, such as the Clark Planetarium, that set up prizes for people who document their poke-experiences with the exhibits, or the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which posted pictures of pokémon enjoying the art as an advertising strategy. The café Palm & Moon even put rules on their opening sign for how you can catch a pokémon for the sake of a drink discount, so the model seems to be working.
The Future is Now
One thing is for sure, Pokémon Go is making a mark on the world. Hatching eggs requires literal walking, usual about two kilometers, and because the miles won’t log unless you’re moving under 10kph the app requires people to walk around to hatch their eggs. Along with the obvious health benefits, people are suggesting that this might be the perfect motivation for some people with depression, at least as far as getting out of the house goes.
Even if the hype fades in the next couple of months, it’s made a serious impact on not just pop-culture, but on the world.
Police officers have already been forced to look into the app because of its potential for both idiocy and crime, and museums and businesses are targeting their younger customers by playing along with the spirit of the app. Even if Pokémon Go fades quickly (something I personally doubt) these tactics will come in handy when the next augmented reality game hits the app store.