I realize I’m a bit late to the party, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about Pokemon Go (aka “POGO”).
I don’t want to talk about how fun it is, or how great it is for my childhood nostalgia. I want to talk about how it’s accomplished so much more than a normal video game typically would — especially a mobile game.
Mobile games are often popular for a short time, and leverage social media to spread their influence. Most of the time, this results in people spending hours playing the game, sharing their scores or free items on Facebook and Twitter, etc.
Pokemon Go seems to be following the same pattern, but with one key difference: players are interacting in the real world, not just the digital one — and on a massive scale. Pokemon Go was clearly designed to have this effect, and as a result it has achieved more than a typical mobile game would be expected to.
To explain, here are a few notable things Pokemon Go has accomplished:
It Makes People Go Outside
Yes, Pokemon Go is making players go outside. When I say this is notable, I don’t mean in the “gamers finally leave their caves and go the hell outside” kind of way. What I’m talking about is the way POGO literally funnels players into the hubs and popular spots in their communities.
This game forces players to explore their surroundings, which fosters a sense of curiosity to try new things and see new places, even if it’s just the park behind your house that you’ve never taken the time to walk through. Pokestops that dispense items are often placed near cool artwork, nice parks, or public landmarks. Personally, I’ve learned so much more about the area I live in from just taking 30 minutes to hit up some Pokestops near my apartment than I have in the two years I’ve lived here. Mainly because I never had a reason to visit other parts of my town (what can I say? Pokemon motivate me).
That might be slightly pathetic, but it’s also pretty neat.
Another notable aspect of this part of the POGO experience is that it gives players the opportunity to break their personal routines and go new places, see new things. Our lives tend to get pretty repetitive, which often makes us feel like we’re losing valuable time. POGO helps break up the repetition we all deal with (i.e. go to work, make dinner, sleep, repeat), and gives us the chance to have unique experiences and therefore more value from our time spent playing.
Most games, mobile or not, leverage socialization and interacting with other players in order to increase exposure and playability. With POGO, social interaction is a side benefit, not a required mechanic, and that makes a huge difference, if you ask me.
The key thing here is that socialization is not a requirement to play and enjoy POGO. You don’t have to do it. Instead, POGO makes you want to do it, because it is just easy to do while playing the game.
POGO gives players a common interest, which makes it easy to say hi and relate to other people you meet while playing the game, even if they’re not normally someone you’d consider to be within your social circle. Older people can play along with younger people, preps can play along with geeks, LoL and Dota fans, etc. Once you see someone else walking and excitedly swiping at their smart phone screen, it’s almost second nature to greet them and ask what team they’re on, or what pokemon they were trying to catch.
It Makes People Want to Do Good
One of the most enjoyable things about the Pokemon Go phenomenon is that it makes people want to do good.
Since the game’s release, people have shared stories of how it inspired them to clean up parks they play in, show up to Pokestops and Gyms with snacks or water for other players, and help each other catch rare Pokemon — regardless of which team they’re on (Valor, Mystic, or Instinct).
While it’s true that POGO has also inspired some not-so-good behavior, it seems so far that players consistently try to do the right thing in the end. For example, this sign in Washington D.C. was tagged by some inconsiderate POGO players, but other players rallied together to go and clean it up almost instantly, posting about their efforts on social media.
In a community where people are known to get salty with each other over minor things like choosing the red team over the blue team, and do mean things for a laugh, it’s nice to see a game with a well-meaning player base.
(P.S. — #GoTeamValor)
The Question is… Will This Continue?
Most mobile games tend to be fads: they get huge exposure and a large player base for a few months, only to lose relevancy a few months later when the game gets old or something newer and shinier comes along.
That may be the case with POGO, to be honest — only time will tell. But regardless of what happens to Pokemon Go in the future, I think it’s been immensely successful with the time it’s had so far. Not just in regards to player base and popularity, but in creating a genuinely positive experience for most people who play it.
Now, if only Niantic would fix the bugs…