In my entire life, I’ve never seen something so outwardly popular with mainstream, everyday people as Pokémon Go.
Every third person I see on the street is playing the game, holding their phones out in front of them to aim at some smiling digital monster only they can see. But it’s not even individuals going it alone, either; it’s whole groups of them. Roving packs of aspiring Pokemon trainers shuffling along the sidewalks, into shops and through neighborhoods, all clutching their phones with telltale posture. It’s incredible.
I live in a quiet little town that only seems to really light up during holidays or when the local university is in session, so I’m used to seeing barren streets, night or day. What I’m not used to is seeing those same streets buzzing with activity as hundreds of people take to the streets to catch Pokémon, mine Pokéstops and take over rival gyms.
Everyone seems friendlier and more outgoing when they’re playing Pokémon Go, and you can probably in large part credit that in equal measure to the sheer ridiculousness of the situation and to how completely obvious it is when someone’s playing it. Given the current limitations of the app, you need to keep your phone screen on and in the app to play — there’s no option to turn off your screen and just get notification alerts — so it’s easy to spot who’s playing and call out to them. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had someone call out to me while playing. Sometimes it’s as simple as an acknowledgment, a quick “Pokémon?” Other times it’s a more enthusiastic “hell yeah Pokemon!” or even a specific callout to the in-game team each player is aligned with. There’s something kind of magical about passing a group of strangers and immediately launching into (friendly) trash talk about how terrible Team Mystic is.
I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my life. It’s not just hardcore gamers playing it; it’s everybody. People I know who absolutely hate traditional video games are playing Pokemon Go and it’s the strangest thing in the world. It’s the perfect marriage of nostalgia, social trends and a relatively easy activity. All the reasons why a hardcore gamer might not like Pokémon Go — it’s shallow, one-note and cannot be played stationary — are exactly the reasons why non-gamers like it. It doesn’t demand almost anything from you. You don’t need to whittle Pokémon down before you catch them by battling them strategically to weaken them without making them faint; they show up and you simply throw Pokéballs at them until they’re caught. You don’t need to run quests, solve puzzles or find key items or skills to progress; you just load up the app for a few minutes, mine a nearby Pokéstop for items, catch a Pokémon or two and close it again. You don’t need to engage in epic, turn-based battles where you choose each move deliberately; you sort of just mindlessly tap to attack and swipe to dodge until you win or lose.
These all sound like negative factors to the hardcore ear, but to the mainstream, it’s music.
The strangest thing about Pokémon Go is how uniformly positive its effect has been. It’s a video game that demands you get up and move around; not just within the confines of your room but actually outside. You need to go out and explore, walk around, see the sights. Pokéstops and gyms are always something in Pokémon Go: a park, a historical site, a coffee shop, a public building, an art installation, etc. You could go to a new city and let Pokémon Go be your tour guide and have a blast. And since everyone is being funneled into the same places, you’re going to run into other people with common interests a lot more than you would normally. If you just moved to a new city and want to make some friends, Pokémon Go seems like a surprisingly great way to do that. As well, it’s encouraging people to get out of their houses and walk around, even going as far as to have eggs that need to be incubated by walking certain distances. The message is clear: play a lot of Pokémon Go and you’ll be healthier, you’ll meet new people and you’ll explore your area. It’s brilliant.
There are of course plenty of legitimate nitpicks to be made about Pokémon Go, but for the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of it all. It’s amazing to watch it bring together friends and strangers, get people out of their houses and fundamentally shake up society just a little bit. How long that’ll last is tough to say, of course, but for now, get out there and enjoy it while it lasts.