PokéMon Phenomenon Takes the World by Storm (Again)

"Pokémon GO is Actually Happening, More Details Revealed" by BagoGames is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you’ve been out and about in the past few days, chances are you’ve seen people madly swiping their smartphones in the streets in front of places of interest. Or you might have overheard colleagues proudly announcing in front of the proverbial water-cooler, “I’ve just caught a Zubat in the boardroom.” And for those recluses who are yet to witness this firsthand, without doubt you’ve spotted constant mentions and articles online about the Japanese 90s cultural phenomenon Pokémon again, years since it’s popularity was at its peak.

After lying relatively low for numerous years now, the Nintendo-owned franchise has seamlessly rediscovered its place at the top of the world’s crazes. Pokémon Go is the new smartphone game from Nintendo and Niantic Labs. Since the app’s soft launch, it has been installed on around 10% of Android devices in the US, climbed to the top of the iTunes app store, crashed the game’s servers and sent Nintendo’s stock price rocketing to the companies highest valuation since 1983.

Stories are even emerging of police matters that have arisen thanks to the game’s popularity. A teenage girl in Wyoming famously discovered a dead body whilst hunting down Pokémon. And police in Missouri claim suspected robbers lured their victims in with the potential of free Pokémon.

On Monday (2 days since its launch) the app surpassed popular dating app Tinder for active users. As well as this, the game is steadily approaching the number of active Android users of Twitter. The rise to prosperity for the game has meant the developers have been forced to put the brakes on their expected worldwide launch following its soft launch in the US, New Zealand and Australia late last week.

Without being able to use such techniques on iOS devices thanks to Apple’s restrictions, iOS users must take a far more convoluted route to installing the game. This route involves essentially tricking your phone and app store that you live in one of the soft-launched countries. Although tricky, once complete, you can be at least sure the app won’t be infected, an issue some Android users are facing.

Pokémon grew to monumental levels of popularity in the late-90s following its relatively simple Nintendo RPG Game Boy game diversified into anime, mange, television, film, card games, merchandise and numerous console games.

Pokémon Go seems to have revisited the Pokémon roots, emulating its original concept. The widely popular Game Boy game involved a character traveling around a fictional world catching mysterious creatures (Pokémon) before training them up into battle. The subsequent anime series used the same concept and followed Ash as he also attempted to become a Pokémon trainer in order to compete against other trainers. Even the trading card game was essentially about buying and trading cards in order to boast the best and most rare set of Pokémon to battle with against friends.

In the recent years the craze of Pokémon had died off. Many speculated this was because it slipped away from its original concept as the franchise grew. No longer was it about the original 150 Pokémon fans had memorised and loved. Nor was it about ‘catching ‘em all’, but instead was about cashing in on a worldwide marvel. Subsequently, the creators forged a brand with the yellow, friendly, immediately recognisable Pikachu at its helm. Pokémon tried to take off further than it already had – in more ways than one – Pokémon even sponsored various transport links (specifically in Asia) for example, All Nippon Airways at one point, which had a bright yellow Pikachu themed plane.

Pokemon train” by Karl Baron is licensed under CC BY 2.0
By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

In simple terms, Pokémon Go is Nintendo re-establishing the unbelievable phenomenon they truly had. Therefore, the app is simply an updated accumulation of what Pokémon originally was all about.

The app utilises your smartphone’s camera, location services, clock and Google maps to detect when and where you are in the game and subsequently alert you to when Pokémon are nearby you to be caught. The game is even sophisticated enough to establish when you’re in different types of locations and offer you Pokémon to catch that suit that environment.

The developers have asserted the primary idea for the game is to encourage users to travel around the real word whilst simultaneously traveling in the game’s virtual world – a concept known as ‘augmented reality’.

So why so popular? Partly it’s because the game is relatively simple and is free to download and play. Secondly, it combines a beloved ‘franchise’ with recent trend in map-based location services required apps, such as Uber, Deliveroo, many dating apps and many others. But more pertinently, Pokémon Go fulfils a fantasy that Pokémon fans first had as a child since the game was originally released: What if Pokémon were real creatures and lived amongst us just like the game, TV series and all the other eventual revenue streams suggested?

Fans (albeit children) dreamed of being Ash Ketchum, the TV show’s protagonist, who traveled the world in his (as the theme song alludes to) quest to ‘catch ‘em all’, with his sidekick Pokémon Pikachu. Given that now all the original Pokémon fans are adults, this new app’s concept provides the greatly appreciated feeling of nostalgia and elements of childhood dreams coming true.

In terms of further similarities to the original concepts, you are traveling around attempting to catch and tame as many Pokémon as possible. There are also gym’s, gym leaders and trainers whom you fight to win various prizes.

Beyond realising childhood dreams, Pokémon Go is one of the first and the biggest to date ‘augmented reality’ game. Unlike virtual reality where you put on a headset or use a device to fully immerse yourself, ‘augmented reality’ utilises technology to enhance the real world around you.

Google even perhaps provided us with a surreptitious preview of the impending hit of Pokémon Go back on April Fool’s day 2014 with this ad. Considering how reliant the app is on Google maps and that developers Niantic started off as a Google company, it’s fair to say we should have paid more attention to their seemingly double-bluff:

Despite its popularity, several issues have arisen since the game’s release just a few days ago. There have been many reports of people getting into public real-life arguments related to the game – which seems to be an inevitable consequence of encouraging millions of users to roam around outside competing for ‘prizes’.

Furthermore, not only have their been the alleged robberies, but there have also been numerous reported injuries and police having to get involved in matters of trespass. Of course the majority of the users will play the game responsibly and use it for what it is, but there are inevitable risks related to augmenting a game into people’s everyday lives – especially at the pace it has taken off.

Just like everything in this day and age, Twitter and social media have provided mixed-reviews about the app. Whilst some announce their delights about the game and reminiscing their childhood, others share stories of woe at how much the game is taking over theirs and their families lives:

We need to bear in mind, the app has only officially been released in three countries. Whilst, as mentioned above, it can be downloaded outside these countries with OS specific workarounds – the game and craze is only going to grow as more and more users download and join in as well as Niantic and Nintendo complete their full global launch.

If you miss running around the playground pretending to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, Thunderbird 1, Indiana Jones, or perhaps Ash and friends – I recommend you download this app and rediscover your childhood imagination and excitement and essentially nostalgically have a trip down the road – in more ways than one – whilst on the lookout for Pidgeot’s, Charmander’s or even Pikachu’s.

Comment below if you’ve downloaded Pokémon Go yet and your thoughts on renewed Pokémon craze.

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