A large part of the series is getting together
Pokemon came out when I was in elementary school, and man did it take off. The first pair of games were released in the US in 1998, and the card game was introduced in 1999. Somewhere in-between that, a social phenomenon started. There was a secret code of sorts where you’d find out someone was a Pokemon fan, and then end up talking for hours trading secrets, tips, starting rosters, and even creatures themselves.
But there were limitations. You needed to bring a Game Boy and link cable to school, where many institutions outlawed both the game and the cards. First and foremost as a kid, you had to deal with the hurdle of going through adults. A lot of parents didn’t “get” Pokemon. They saw it as a fad and many didn’t care for it or care to get into it with their kids.
But it’s been 20 years since the original Japanese release, and people “get” that it’s not a fad now. Pokemon Go came at the perfect time, where old fans of the series now have grown kids of their own, and I got to see some of that magic this past weekend.
You might recall me asking if anyone has seen Pokemon Go played out in the wild. Prior to Sunday I hadn’t — and I had been out of the house pretty regularly since it’s launch — but now I know why. At multiple gatherings yesterday people explained to me that major server issues had caused them to give up playing, but with some of that muck cleared up they were free to go out and about. And out and about they went.
Shopping centers. Parks. Ponds. Churches. Tons of people either rolled by in their cars (full of kids who all had devices in their hands) or walked up to my wife and I, and traded war stories or told us about a creature that was in a specific area. A few folks drove by and yelled their team name, and shared a few fist pumps in solidarity or light, cheeky boos. The biggest thing to takeaway from this experiment — Pokemon fans are out and about, meeting each other again.
In recent titles (from the DS) on, online play has driven the series forward in many ways, and made it a global game. But taking emphasis off of the local aspects changed the spirit of the originals in a way, which Pokemon Go is bringing back. Seeing people physically walk up and down roads with their phones up, smiling at one another is a great feeling, and everyone that I saw was ready and willing to talk about the series — whether they were young or old.
So what about the game? It has a ways to go. It still crashes during major events (catching Pokemon, gym battles)…frequently. There are a number of UI issues that could stand to be clarified or cleaned up, and some of the biggest features — trading, interactivity with the core series, one-on-one on the spot battling, expansion beyond the original G1 games — are not present (and the device isn’t out yet). Niantic now has a long journey ahead of itself in keeping people interested and playing. I don’t know if it can sustain a community as large as its launch week over time, but it’ll be fun to see them try.