Go, Pokémon Go!! is Thorsten Sahlin’s second piece for Cult of AMERICANA
It’s been roughly a year and two months since the release of the phenomenological hurricane, Pokémon Go. Admittedly, I bought into the hype hard. It was the perfect amalgam the modern smartphone technology to which I am reluctantly dependent, and the nostalgia my generation (xennial, millennial) revels in. This combination contributed to the massive success PG achieved at its inception. In its first month, PG set the record for most revenue grossed by a mobile game in its first month, most downloaded in its first month, most international charts topped simultaneously by a mobile game in its first month (downloads, and revenue), and fastest mobile game to gross 100 million dollars. Clearly, I was not the only one under its spell. Despite its success, my interest waned quickly, as did the interest of basically everyone else I knew. The glitz of it all faded when we realized that it was a serious time investment, and let’s be serious, if you’re in your late 20’s/early 30’s, if you’re lucky enough to not be off work and outside, hurling poké’ balls via flicks of your smart phone is probably the last thing on your mind.
I first became hip to Pokémon in 1999. My little sister had a small green iteration of a Game Boy, and I stole it to play Tetris.
Before I could do so however, I noticed the Pokémon: Blue Edition cartridge in the back slot and decided to check it out. I turned the system on, and was given the option to start with one of three Pokémon. A scientist of sorts (whom seemed to be playing a “Doc Brown” role in the Poké-verse) asked me to choose between Charmander; a doe-eyed fire lizard, Bulbasaur; another lizard-esque character that has been cross-bred with a plant, and Squirtle; a charming turtle with a prehensile tale who spits water at his enemies.
I chose Bulbasaur and was off. In this pre-smartphone era, I was relegated to “catching them all” on a diminutive grey screen. My adventures with Athena (what I named my Bulbasaur) played out exclusively in an 8-bit universe while I avoided homework in study hall. Conversely, PG offers an opportunity for contemporary players to interact beyond the restrictions of a gaming screen. By offering the game via smartphone, the app accesses the phone’s camera every time a Pokémon is available for capture. The Pokémon then appears on the screen as if it exists in our world. With the digital realm becoming such a significant place for businesses, ideas, and commerce to exist, the legitimacy of assets existing in an online-only capacity is greatly enhanced. Could the act of catching Pokémon become as legitimate as other collection-based hobbies such as birding? It harbors the same competitive aspects (catching, and identifying more than the next hobbyist), there rare specimens which must be sought out, and those who have managed to stick with it are obsessed. With the exception of not existing in our physical realm, it certainly fits all the bills.
I gave up on it so soon, along with everyone else I know. I’ve oft wondered if the game had totally gone under, or if there were holdouts still playing. It hasn’t, there are, and how. Enter Ian.
A week or two after my initial “whatever happened to Pokemon Go” moment, I bumped into my friend Ian walking to our work. After some quick banter, he informed me he “had to run to a gym real quick”. Me: “….Uhhhh, A POKEMON gym?…” Ian: ” yeah, I’ll see you in 20….” I can’t explain it, but I was extensively relieved it was still going strong, albeit with a much more niche fan base. It’s like abandoning a floundering sports team; you just don’t have the mental currency to invest in it anymore. When they start to do well again, you’re happy for them, but understand you can have no part in the thrill of their newfound success; you’ve bailed. I wanted to know what inspired him to stick with it for this long. Ian, being a gentle”mon”, was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
Have you been playing since the game came out 14 months ago?
“I’ve been playing Pokémon Go since the launch date last year!”
Do you play with friends, or are you more of a solo hunter?
“When the game first launched I knew little to nothing about Pokémon world. What really got me into the game was how it brought together a new type of community and I love seeing that even today when I go out to hunt. I started out hunting with my co-workers which gave me the safe space I needed to feel connected to the game as well as feeling welcomed by everyone who was playing it. Every day after work we would plan times to go out, hunt and take over gyms. Now that I’m living in Chicago and none of my school or work friends play PGO, I’m mostly a solo hunter which has made it easier to level up and run around wherever I please. Although, I am always down for playing with other people. One thing I love about the PGO community is that its players have created groups and forums where other people can meet and talk about Pokémon. I’ve seen people come together to answer questions, give advice and even help hunt, which is fantastic. Feeding off of that is the PGO YouTube community which is an amazing source meeting new players, getting tips from amazing YouTubers, and learning how to defeat certain Pokémon in the gym system.”
Do you have a favorite Pokémon type? Why? Are there any you dislike?
“I love all types of Pokémon, but if I had to choose it would be Dragon.”
How many Pokémon have you caught? How many do you currently have?
“So far, I have caught over 6,200 Pokémon. I have only 410 currently saved.”
What team are you on? Why?
“Team Mystic! Blue is my favorite color of course, also the Articuno is an incredible mascot!”
In addition to Pokémon, do you collect anything else?
“In addition to Pokémon, there are certain Items that are collectable in the game such as Poké, Great, and Ultra Balls, six types of Potions including Revives which bring Pokémon back to their full potential in battle, Lucky Eggs which double XP for 30 minutes, Incense which lures Pokémon around you for 30 minutes, Raid Passes (a pass to a type of gym system), Lure Modules which make a Poké Stop attract more Pokémon to, Egg incubators, and finally three types of berries; when fed to a Pokémon, increases the chances of catching it.”
Do you have a history with playing Pokémon games, or is this your first one? If not, what was your first Pokémon game?
“First time! And I’m addicted.”
Do you play any other games? Smartphone or other consoles?
“Pokémon Go is the only game I play.”
He went on to address a few more items.
“With any game, online or in person (which in this case it’s both), there is going to be people who play unfairly. Since I’ve been a viewer for most of the big Pokémon Go YouTubers, I have seen first hand how and why cheating, and other forms of game misuse, affects the game and the fair players. There are players who use third-party apps to change their GPS which allow them to move around and catch rare Pokémon in the comfort of their home. It’s a big problem that Niantic is still needs to address. Although these issues still need attention, the community keeps thriving and that’s what keeps me to play everyday. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and I want to catch them all!”
It’s evident Ian’s enthusiasm for PG has an infectiousness that would humble the plague. After this interview, I downloaded the game again. I have yet to play it, but maybe now after seeing it through fresh eyes, I’ll find some time. Players like Ian (and myself eventually?) stay interested because Pokémon Go is providing a space which showcases the breakdown between physical and digital asset accumulation. Non-tangible points of interest combine with physical locations to provide a realm which transcends our topographic reality. Battles and hunts are played out across cities, yet simultaneously invisible to passers-by. PG is a summation of a greater verity; It’s 2017 and It doesn’t really make a difference whether your wealth and livelihood are tangible, or concretized on a screen.