Today I’m going to talk about the latest gaming phenomenon called Pokemon Go. Chances are you just returned from your month-long vacation on the not-planet Pluto and haven’t noticed people of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors walking around like mindless zombies, drooling on themselves as they hold their cell phones out in front of them. Those are common side effects from Pokemon Go Syndrome (PGS), a potentially fatal illness sweeping the planet. Meandering mindless miscreants, holding their phones out in front of their faces, shall henceforth be called Pokemon Go Zombies (PGZ). Consider this blog your immunization against the sickness. I guarantee this blog won’t cause Autism or contain tiny microchips supplied by the shady and top secret Government tracking program. I’ll cover the history of Pokemon, what the game is about, and then turn it about in my hand like a multifaceted Charizard, covering many of the related features of the game. This will touch on technology, information security, psychology, physical security, exercise, and cultural gaming trends. That’s a lot to pack into one blog, so this is Part One of the series, until I’ve milked the proverbial Pokemon of all its Go. Corny puns and frequent use of the word “squirtle” and “charizard” are forthcoming, mainly because I just like to say them. You have been warned.
The History of Pokemon
Pokemon, the merging together of the words Pocket and Monster, was introduced on February 27, 1996 on the Nintendo Game Boy system. The goal of the game was to catch, train and trade creatures to become a Pokemon Master. The first few games led to the release of Pokemon trading cards, which led to a very fast rise in popularity. This, in turn, led to an anime series, manga book series, toys, more games, more toys, more cards, large creepy marching stuffed yellow animals, a healthy dose of more toys and cards and games and movies, and then… Pokemon Go.
Though I didn’t participate or collect or even care, I vividly remember back in the day the
huge rise in popularity of the card game. There was a resultant wave of anti-Pokemon sentiment from parents, teachers and the church who didn’t understand the popularity, and who mostly likely forgot those fad crazes from their childhood. I remember pestering my Dad to drive me 45 minutes to Hughesville, PA because they received a new shipment of Garbage Pail Kids. I also remember mob scenes as soccer moms fought each other over M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestlers, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies and Harry Potter books.
As a historical note, I also remember the backlash from churches against Cabbage Patch Kids, Pokemon Cards and Harry Potter. They were all from the devil, right? There is an age old church story of a pagan witch doctor who became a converted Christian, and was presented with a <Cabbage Patch Kid, Pokemon Card, Christian Rock album, Harry Potter book, etc.>. In every story, the converted pagan frantically exclaimed that this object was used in their own pagan rituals! Oh no! The story has conveniently been recycled throughout the years to cover the latest fad or trend of society. Because it is completely unverifiable, and includes an authoritative source (the converted pagan witch doctor), it is of course believed and circulated. But I’m getting ahead of myself here – first, let’s cover what Pokemon Go is, and some of the various aspects of it, before we head into the territory of making any sort of value judgement.
What is Pokemon Go?
Pokemon Go is the latest Pokemon game to hit the swarming masses. It was created by the California game making company Niantic, who creatively combined the real world of Google Maps with an imaginary virtual overlay realm of Pokemon creatures. As Niantic is owned by Google, it’s the perfect strawberry jam to Google’s monstrous peanut butter sandwich. The game is free to download on your mobile phone (either Android or iPhone). The interface is a colorful dumbed down rendition of Google Maps, where occasional Pokemon creatures randomly appear for you to capture. To capture a Pokemon, you must toss a Pokeball at the creature, much in the same way you would toss a ball to knock down bottles in a carnival game. Once captured, the monsters are yours to level up, evolve, power up, and send into battle against other owners’ monsters. This epic battle takes place in Pokemon gyms, which appear on the map as landmarks pulled from Google Maps. There are also Pokestops where you can periodically get free stuff, which are also landmarks found on Google Maps. These gyms and stops are typically Churches, restaurants, historical landmarks, post offices, art statues, and so on.
You gain experience points and loot by capturing Pokemon, visiting Pokestops, and winning battles against other trainers’ Pokemons. As you level up, you are able to capture more powerful Pokemon, and use more powerful loot. This loot can also be purchased with coins which can, naturally, be purchased with real world money. Thus far, about 50% of Pokemon Go players are dumping real world cash to buy loot. And thus far, Pokemon Go is raking in between 1 and 2 million dollars a day, which is remarkable for a free game. Companies are lining up to bow before this new golden cash cow, with McDonalds leading the way to request that its restaurants become Pokestops for weary trainers. Oh and while you are there, you can drop some cash for a Pokemon Go Happy Meal toy. Because who doesn’t want a little plastic Pikachu toy? Another method to acquire Pokemon is to hatch an egg in an incubator. To hatch an egg, you of course need to acquire an egg, and deposit it inside an acquired incubator (one is provided to everyone at the start of the game with infinite uses). Once an egg is inside an incubator, you need to Go. That is, you need to move a certain distance (as measured on the map) for the egg to hatch. There are 2k, 5k and 10k eggs. The higher the distance the egg requires to hatch, the more likely it will hatch a rare Pokemon. You can acquire additional incubators as drops or by dropping cash, so at any given time you could be walking your way towards hatching a Pokemon army. Now I hear you chuckling to yourself. Sure, you’ll just jump in the rusted out car and drive around and around to hatch those eggs, right? Not so fast. No, really. Not so fast – if you go faster than 20mph, it stops clocking towards your eggs. It wants to force you to get exercise by walking or biking or roller skating or piggy backing or driving really, really slow. That’s why it’s called Pokemon Go (emphasis on Go).
There are lots of other odds and ends tossed in there, such as leveling up your monsters, their attack strength, their life points, healing potions and crystals to heal your Pokemon if they get injured in gym battles. There are lures and bait that can cause Pokemon to come to you, whereas normally you have to use the in-game radar to find the Pokemon. There is lots to this game, and Niantic provided very little documentation or helpful information to explain what on earth you are supposed to actually do. Viva la Internet, there are countless web pages and blog posts that give you tips and tricks. Hey – you’re reading one right now.
So that’s the high level overview of Pokemon Go. All of the myriad pieces and parts are ingredients in a giant pot of addictive soup – and people are lining up in droves to ingest this soup. Their tag line is pretty accurate – Gotta Catch Them All! No, I mean it – you GOT TO catch them all. You are powerless to resist.