Though it’s only been out since July 6, Pokémon Go has become the number one mobile game in US history – and it’s been taking over communities in unprecedented ways.
The game, which is a collaboration between The Pokémon Company and Niantic, uses a phone’s camera and GPS to put the player directly into the world of a Pokémon master – or, more accurately, to bring Pokémon into our real-time world.
But while the game does a great job of fulfilling the fantasies of millions of 90s kids (the game currently has 15 million players and is still growing), its most commonly noted feature isn’t its ability to bring rare Pokémon into your literal back yard; rather, it’s the social aspect.
Though there’s no option to trade or battle directly with friends yet, Pokémon Go instills a sense of friendly competition and camaraderie that’s rare in today’s video games. There are three teams to choose from and defend – Team Mystic, Team Valor, and Team Instinct, represented by the legendary Pokémon Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos, respectively – but rather than fight over which team reigns superior, most players seem to enjoy working together and making new friends in the process. In my experience in New York City, players will collaboratively drop lure modules (items that attract Pokémon to a certain location for 30 minutes at a time) to create “lure parties,” where they work together to identify and catch rare Pokémon. Cries of “Dratini!” and “there’s a Pikachu here!” are common, as are the collective cheers as each player catches the rare spawn.
Even businesses have recognized an opportunity through Pokémon Go’s success. Some players will go as far as to choose a restaurant that has a Pokéstop nearby over a restaurant that doesn’t, so Yelp has instituted a “Pokéstop Nearby” filter on their search. Local shops and cafés have also been appealing to players’ team loyalty which, despite the overall friendly tone of the game, runs strong:
Then there’s arguably the most beneficial aspect of Pokémon Go – exercise and its effects on mental health. At any given time, Pokémon Go players can look up from their phones and find another player tossing Pokéballs just feet away from them. That’s because the game requires players to get out and explore their surroundings in order to find different kinds of Pokémon, collect supplies at local landmarks designated as “Pokéstops,” and take and defend team gyms. People of all ages are flocking outdoors to play the game, and many have taken to social media to express the wonders it’s done for their anxiety, depression, and/or overall mental health.
But despite its social, health, and economic benefits, Pokémon Go still has many critics: from those who find Pokémon to be “lame” to those who vilify the game for its supposed dangers. Because the game requires you to look down at your phone often while exploring, many have complained that it’s creating dangerous situations, from people not looking before crossing the street to others trying to catch Pokémon while driving. Some have even taken to using the game to lure victims into remote areas to rob them.
Of course, Pokémon Go’s legal team anticipated this and covered their bases early; upon release, the game’s loading screen already had a warning to stay alert while playing. As long as players follow that advice and remain alert and careful, the game should be a fun, social experience full of the nostalgia 90s kids crave.
Have you played Pokémon Go? How has the game affected your community or your social life? Share your stories in the comments below!