Catching ’em All

Like many people born in the early ’90s, I grew up playing Pokémon. And man, I caught ‘em all. Literally all of ‘em. At least in Yellow and Gold; I got close in Ruby and that’s where I stopped.

So when Pokémon Go was first announced last year I thought it seemed really cool. Like worth upgrading my four-year-old phone for. In case you haven’t heard, here’s the skinny on Go:

It’s Pokémon in real life. You go places, your phone tells you there’s a Pokémon there, you catch it. Certain landmarks are gyms where you can battle people and other landmarks give you items. Again, it’s Pokémon in real life.

Now, the game is very much in its infancy. It’s a drain on battery and there isn’t much in the way of depth to the game (there is no way to traditionally level up Pokémon, which means you’ll probably find yourself releasing your starter). Then there’s the awful server lag currently present that makes playing a crapshoot at best. A game’s not great if you can’t really play it. It’s a mess.

And yet.

I’ve found myself walking through Washington Square Park, looking for Pokémon with friends, and running into other people also looking for Pokémon. I walked to the Arch to challenge the gym there and, upon seeing that someone had used a Lure Module on the Gibraldi Statue, sat around there catching Pokémon with a handful of strangers. And then all of us getting excited when a hitherto uncaught Ekans showed up.

I think this is where the beauty of Pokémon Go, even in its nascent state, shines. There’s an excitement in the traditional Pokémon games when a random encounter yields that one Pokémon you’ve spent ages searching for (I’m looking at you, Tauros). Same with when that egg you’ve been walking around with forever finally hatches. Go takes that feeling of success and translates it to real life. When an egg hatches it’s because you’ve carried it for five kilometers. Not your digital avatar walking around Johto, but you, in real life, walking around your town. When you, at last, finally get a Pinsir it’s because you decided to walk to Starbucks for coffee instead of spending your break inside. That joy you got in the games is made visceral. Now your ability to catch ‘em all is a direct result of your own exploring — you’re looking for Pokémon.

It helps that the simple mechanics (go somewhere, find a thing, get a thing, look for a better thing) is bolstered by the pop culture familiarity brought on by Pokémon. It’s no coincidence that the available Pokémon are the original 150, the ones people my age fondly remember from growing up. There’s an appeal to the familiar, and man, it’s working — I don’t think I’ve been this excited to find a Bellsprout since I was seven. There’s an implicit invitation in the game to be a kid again, to look around your world with a wonderment because that mural on the wall could be a Pokémon Gym and there’s a Bulbasaur down that road in the West Village.

Pokémon Go still has a lot of room to grow — and it’ll have to to keep people interested over the long term. But for now, just a couple days out of the gate, it’s a whole lotta simple, magical, fun.

Except for those Rattatas. I am so sick of finding freaking Rattatas.

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