The first time I saw “The Wizard,” a glorious piece of late ’80s film genius about two brothers who run away from home to compete in a colossal video game competition (Kevin Arnold! In a movie!), I declared to my parents my future career: Professional, competitive video game player.
It’s possible you’ve noticed that I’ve had to go with Plan B on the job front—turns out the market for elite video game prodigies is slim—but that hasn’t changed my enjoyment of gaming over the years. In fact, I still play today.
But there is one franchise that I missed the bus on entirely: Pokémon. Never played a lick, unless you count pacifying my young cousin for a few hours one Thanksgiving.
Pokémon (a rough contraction of “pocket monster”) was the brainchild of game developer and bug collector Satoshi
Tajiri, conceptualized right around the time of “The Wizard,” in fact. Once he teamed up with Nintendo, Pokémon was born for GameBoy and unleashed upon the world one of the most popular gaming franchises of all time. Since then, dozens of Pokémon games have been released, hand-held, console, and of course, the popular trading card games—not to mention merchandise and the TV series. But despite its popularity over the years, no one could have been prepared for what hit on July 5: Pokémon GO.
Capitalizing a lot on human device dependence, nostalgia and our pesky competitive spirits—and perhaps our tendency toward a bit of wanderlust—Pokémon GO unleashes the original 151 pocket monsters in your own backyard, literally. Through GPS mapping technology and augmented reality, the new Pokémon GO game merges video game obsession with real world exploration.
As of this issue, I’ve only been playing for three days, mostly just catching Pokémon where I live and work. I’m level six (hey, I’ve got to work for a living), but my early review is this: It’s a ton of fun. Mindless fun, sure, but fun nonetheless.
I love the energy of people of all ages clambering for Pokémon, spending time walking (some claim to have lost weight from the increase in exercise) and discovering new places. Are there cautionary tales? Sure. Just remember that you are playing a game, and you’ll be having addictive fun in no time. I’m a far cry from a gaming pro, but Pokémon GO is helping to fill the hole in this dreamer’s heart.
TIPS & OBSERVATIONS OF A NEWB
How it works: Once you download the game onto your device (free for iOS and Android) and create an account, you customize (in a very limited fashion) a character “trainer,” who then will appear on a map in your relative GPS-honed location. Pokémon appear on the map for your catching pleasure, as do PokéStops (places where you can get more balls and other items without having to pay for them in the game) and Gyms (places where, after level five, you can train and challenge others). But the real fun for this player is catching and powering up your own Pokémon. When a Pokémon appears on the map, you click on him and he will appear in the area right in front of you. On your living room carpet. On your co-workers’ heads. On the barstool next to you. With the flick (or two or three) of a Pokémon ball, you can catch him. After all, you gotta catch ’em all! And that’s it, in a nutshell.
Where to find them: Basically everywhere. But more highly trafficked areas are best. That’s why so many players are fixated on downtown Canton. Look for points of interest: public art, historical markers, parks and other gathering points. Plus, when you get out and go to new places, or places where there are bodies of water, for example, you’ll find new and different Pokémon than you will from your couch. It’s called Pokémon GO for a reason.
Be safe. Don’t walk in the street to catch Pokémon. Don’t try to catch Pokémon while driving. Don’t be lured to a remote or unfamiliar location by potential muggers for the sake of Pokémon. In other words, common sense please.
Be civilized. Don’t go onto private property to catch Pokémon. Don’t be disrespectful to business owners—if the sign says no Pokémon, that means no Pokémon. Some businesses are using the game to beef up foot traffic, using in-game items called lures to gather more Pokémon near their businesses or offering free items for customers. So if a business is pro-Pokémon, still be respectful of actual business patrons, or hey, become a patron yourself.
No social? For a game that is trending to out pace Twitter in number of active users as of this publication, it’s strange that there’s not a social component, at least not an in-game social component. Sure you can battle other player’s Pokémon at gyms, and there is an in-game camera, but you can’t connect or “friend” other players (yet?).
Things to watch out for. The game is a huge data and battery sucker and can sometimes be glitchy as the servers are overwhelmed by so many players all vying for bandwidth. In fact, the developer has announced a simple new wrist device that looks, unsurprisingly, like a Poké Ball, that keeps you from having to use your smartphone to play. I’m sure the bottom line plays a role here, but this may limit data issues with your cell plan.
That’s not all. There are plenty of other things to do in the game, sort of. The gyms and battles, for one, have not yet been explored by this gamer (but go Team Valor!). And there are items such as incense and eggs, and ways to power-up and evolve your Pokémon, but I’ll leave you to explore on your own. This gamer-turned-writer is out of space.