If you’ve watched the news, you’ve heard about it. If you’re on Facebook, everyone’s posting about it. If you’re on Twitter, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to ignore it. It’s the new mobile phone game from Niantic, based on their previous title Ingress: Pokémon Go! While the application has been readily available in a few national markets, with its official release in Canada, I can finally lend my two cents on the game and talk about the application that has single-handedly changed the face of mobile gaming forever.
First off, let me say that I was a huge fan of Ingress before this app was even a thing: it was a game where you went around trying to capture locations on a map for the team you represent of two teams. There was a premise and a slight story but it was really just about capturing those locations for your team and it used your current location, via GPS and data, to aid in that. Pokémon Go is, more or less, the same thing: the locations are divvied up between PokeStops and Pokemon Gyms and the main addition is the function that allows you to capture Pokemon. Capturing Pokemon works somewhat like a paper toss game. When you’ve gathered enough Pokemon and levels through experience gained by performing pretty much any action in game, you can participate in gym battles and represent one of three teams. As you gather Pokemon, you can trade them up for items you can use to power up and evolve your other Pokemon.
Beyond this, as of yet, there’s not much more to the game. You just go out and capture as many Pokemon as you can and, when it comes time, start participating in gym battles. In my city, there’s been what’s called “lure events,” which involves people attaching lures to PokeStops, which attract Pokemon to the location. Usually, they’re done where there are a large concentration of PokeStops in a small area and often where there are a lot of stops, there are some gyms nearby, as well. This brings a lot of people together and, so far, it’s been a great way to share information and show off your collection.
The fact that it’s incredibly simple also means that just about everyone can play it and it’s created something of a quick phenomenon among players, old and new. Even my wife, who isn’t really renowned for getting into stuff like this, has been learning about and playing the game with me, going as far as to let me introduce her to the anime series on Netflix. This is someone who had some very valid reasons for not being into playing video games. This has created an opportunity to go on a cheap date night whenever we like, as often as we like, doing something we both enjoy. This is a great example of the kind of community and opportunity this app has created.
While this game has a lot going for it, there, Niantic has kind of created a bad situation: their servers weren’t really stress tested before release and they thought they could subvert that by staggering the countries the game was released on by making it available only in certain countries, in waves. That didn’t exactly work out as people found an incredibly easy way around that that allowed people in any region to play the game and caused all kinds of server problems almost constantly. Niantic is really yet to fix these issues and like any major release of a massively multiplayer game, it’s probably going to be some time before we see it completely eliminated.
Add in to the fact that there’s accessories that were supposed to be released alongside the game and while the game has only been out for a short time, one would think that Niantic and Nintendo would release the accessory and the game at the same time to try and maximize the profits and keep demand up but… hey… look at me telling Nintendo how to do things. I think that’s more of a pet peeve than anything, honestly, because it would really help with battery issues: keeping the app open at all times really can be a drain on system resources and battery power for your phone.
One big thing, too, is the fact that Niantic has been incredibly hush-hush regarding the actual functionality of the game, under the hood. While some information has been trickling out, it seems to be entirely due to speculation and testing done by players of the game that hasn’t really been proven completely. This leads to a lot of misinformation going around and, unfortunately, a lot of misleading and Niantic could really help with this but has chosen to stay mum on the matter. They could be doing a lot with this game and should have had a lot more ready at the time of release. Instead, I feel like I’m part of some big beta test. With something like this, I don’t quite mind, because I’m thoroughly enjoying it, but I feel that it could have been pulled off a lot better, in the end.
As with anything that is massively popular and forces social interaction, you’re going to have to account for one basic thing: the human element. While this is a great way for like-minded fans to share their interest in something they sincerely love and it’s also a great way for people to share their interests with those only just getting involved now, it’s also a way for people to… well… be people, unfortunately. That’s pretty much the only way to put this. There are people who seek to harass, troll, and otherwise ruin others’ good time, which only spreads negativity, especially in those who can’t properly cope with said negativity. I find that this is really prevalent in those that don’t understand the franchise or the game, those who simply don’t care and utterly refuse to think critically, and in fair weather fans. Unfortunately, the only way this situation will really be resolved will be as the fan base shrinks to fit the people this game was actually made for: fans of the franchise and people who want to give Pokemon a serious go but have been intimidated by the franchise and its fans.
I’ve heard and seen things happening that range all the way from outright bullying and shit-talking to leaving litter everywhere at a lure event to trolling people on social media to creating false news stories to paint the app in a negative light… like I said, it opens things up for people to just be people, good or bad. It’ll take time and it won’t be so internationally prevalent and when that happens… this app is really going to hit its stride and become something really special. The only problem is with the wait that will need to happen and it’s anyone’s guess how long that’ll be.
I will say this, though, as someone who’s been rather a moderate fan of the series that loves this app: I have high hopes. Hopefully, those hopes are not misplaced.