“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”
-Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: The Musical
There are some moments where you feel like you’re part of history happening. Sometimes those moments are big and revolutionary. Sometimes, you’re playing Pokemon GO.
Wait, stay with me here.
I started playing Pokemon Go the week it was released in the US, with very little hesitation. I’m not the most hardcore player, but it’s definitely become a part of my week. There was at least one week where I specifically went out to parks to play it with friends almost every day. My friends and I have made the Tualatin Commons are standard meeting ground most weekends, and we walk around and chat while stocking up on Magikarps and Charmanders (yes, we all have a Gyarados at this point). Occasionally, I have one of those out-of-body experiences, where I look around at what we’re doing, and think: how weird is this?
To other people (non-players), we must look kind of crazy. The Commons is a man-made lake, with Pokestops sprinkled all along it (which are almost constantly lured to attract more Pokemon), and every night there are players out there for hours just walking around, phones out, stocking up on items and catching Pokemon. Occasionally, something rare will pop up, and you’ll hear the murmurs take hold (“Snorlax!” “Did you get the Dragonair?” “There’s a Magmar that way!”). More than once, we’ve taken off running, quickly joined by other players we’ve never met. It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. It’s like being a little kid again.
And yes, it is a little weird.
But it’s also special. I don’t know how long this game will hold this fascination for me, or for anyone else. I don’t know if this is a trend, or a change in how we, as a culture, approach games. Either way, I feel especially privileged to be at this point in its history. It’s new. Not all the original 151 are even released yet. The pros are still figuring out all the little tricks and Easter eggs in the game, while the rest of us are still just trying to “catch ’em all” as best as we can. There are countless features that haven’t even been announced yet. This frustrates some players, but I think it’s kind of awesome. We’re seeing it build itself, and our use of the game will help influence how they build it.
This game isn’t like previous Pokemon games. It isn’t like any game I’ve ever played before. I couldn’t imagine caring about Pokemon again, at age 29. Of course, it’s not like it was when I was 12, and it’s not the same as if I’d been part of the fandom for years, but it’s amazing to me that it drew me back in after so long. What impresses me even more is how many people I know who are into GO, but have never played a Pokemon game before. It’s creating a new audience. Whether that audience will stick or not, or transfer to other Pokemon games, is yet to be seen. But it’s definitely creating something new.
Some people hate the game. Most of these people have never played it, and are just reacting to the hype, or to the image of people walking around glued to their phones. But it really is a social, interactive experience. And a consuming one. It’s not like other app games, which you can play in minute chunks when you’re bored. Pokemon GO requires you to get up, move, go to new places. We make an evening out of it; starting with dinner (usually a restaurant we’ve never been to before), leading into hours of walking and chatting (yes, with an eye on our phones), often ended with ice cream or even a movie, when we get tired of walking. Along the way, we meet people, discover new stores, and get a good amount of excercise. It’s helping people; it’s helping the economy.
And, remember, this is only just the beginning.