Pokemon Go Is Trending! Here's A Look At Why
Updated: Apr 2
You can't go anywhere without hearing about Pokemon Go these days--not social media, not your favorite MMO general chat, and not even the general downtown area in most cities. Now, for the first time, you can adventure outside and "Catch 'Em All" in real time, right alongside your neighbors, all while getting a bit of exercise and enjoying that great big yellow ball in the sky.
Flappy Bird. Candy Crush. Fruit Ninja. All of these games were ridiculously simple at their heart, but they managed to captivate, and even outright demand, attention from gamers all over the world. They become an integral part of daily life, stitched into it just as much as drinking water or sleeping.
It's an odd phenomena, for sure, but certainly not rare in any way.
Today's games have the ability to go viral in much the same way as memes and videos. In fact, some even become memes in their own right. Search Google for "Flappy Bird memes" and you'll see exactly what this means--an endless supply of jokes, usually sarcastic in nature, that tout the game's addictiveness.
But Pokemon Go is much more complex than Flappy Bird, or even Candy Crush. How did this GPS-based game manage to become this year's "Flappy-Bird-esque" phenomena, and just why is this one game so darn addictive?
Let's break things down.
How It Works
While it's certainly more complex than Flappy Bird, Pokemon Go really isn't really all that complex either. Working from a Google Maps port and your smartphone's GPS system, it essentially renders a "world" that matches the streets and areas you cross while out and about. At its heart, it relies on the same technology used to provide turn-by-turn directions when driving.
All you have to do to get started is have a Wi-Fi plan, download the game, and pick your avatar. From there, it's just a matter of getting on your feet and getting moving. (If we're being honest, that's sometimes the hardest part, no?)
The human mind is a wild and crazy beast. It likes and becomes obsessed with the most random things sometimes, (ever found yourself laying in bed humming a Nickleback song at 4 a.m.? Yeah, that.) many of which don't really make a whole lot of sense to us. But when it comes to Pokemon Go, there's actually a fairly reasonable explanation for why the game's making us all so crazy.
First, it's recognizable, and also fairly nostalgic for a lot of players. Nearly everyone knows, at least at a very basic level, what a Pokemon is. And that means that the original players of Pokemon--now in their late 20s and early 30s--again have a totally good reason to indulge in the game without seeming immature.
A Recognizable Franchise
The franchise itself, has helped push the game into relative overall success, especially considering that this is the first truly new and inventive release under it since And for those that don't, the concept is mind-blowingly simple to understand--it's a pet. You train it. Then battle it against other people's pets. Collect them from the wild. Simple, right?
Augmented Reality and Immersion
Pokemon Go relies on something called augmented reality (and regardless of Sunny Dhillon's naysaying in Venturebeat, it is, in fact, a type of augmented reality) to create the illusion of immersion within the game. The term immersion gets thrown around a lot in games, but at its heart, it just means feeling like you're really part of the game. If you've ever gotten completely lost and swept up in a game of Skyrim, you've experienced immersion first-hand.
There are many ways to create immersion; some games use sound, special effects, or even virtual reality headsets to really put you in the driver's seat. Immersion, especially in the case of RPG-based games, is one of the single-most important factors for many games; too little, and a game can become stiff and boring. Too much, and it can begin to seem cheesy and overdone.
Where Pokemon Go excels is at balancing the need for immersion in a way that utilizes current technology while still remaining simple. It uses the real world around you in a slightly Matrix-style fashion that's relatively new, and therefore, more persuasive, but it does so in a way that allows players to temporarily suspend belief so they can become part of the ongoing story.
That story, of course, is catching the best and beating out the rest, according to Socially Gaming.
Community and Bringing People Together
The fifth and perhaps most important aspect to Pokemon Go's success relates not to the games technological prowess, or its creativeness, but to the fact that it's managing to get people out into the world and interacting with one another in a face-to-face fashion.
In a world where smartphones now outnumber computers and consoles alike, that's no mean feat. And, to make matters even more complex, all of this comes at a time when many areas of the world are experiencing extreme strife. With tensions brewing in the United States and Canada over a long list of politically-charged issues, whether it be Black Lives Matter, police shootings, LGBTQ harassment, or the never-ending circus of the current election, many people are finding it difficult to justify heading outdoors at all.
Looking from the outside in, you can't really blame them. Social media makes it clear that even the most sheltered individuals are questioning what situations they might fall into if they do. Will it be another Dallas? Will it be another Orlando? Will we be safe to play outside?
Socially Gaming believes that what Pokemon Go manages to do is bridge the widening gap between class, color, creed, religion, and even nationality. It gives all of these people, regardless of what side they stand on, something in common. Instead of looking at people with suspicion, people are coming together to talk or battle Pokemon--an infinite improvement. That sense of community is something that's been very much missing from society as we go about our online lives, rarely connecting on a personal level.
Far From Perfect
Have there been issues? Sure, of course. As with everything else, Pokemon Go isn't perfect. Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein painted a rather bleak picture of it in an article, calling it "so, so glitchy" and then going on to say that, "mobile games that burn this bright often don’t burn that long." After all, look where Flappy Bird is now; he's not entirely wrong.
Bernstein also brought up the point that certain communities are under served by Pokemon Go; namely, communities that are often very poor and disenfranchised. A recent article in Polygon drew attention to another important problem, too: if you're disabled, you're going to have a very difficult time chasing Pokemon down.
Truthfully, these are important issues that must be addressed in order for this "craze" to remain burning as bright as it has. But what many people seem to be missing is that even Niantic didn't anticipate how popular the game would become, much as Dong Nguyen couldn't possibly have anticipated how crazy the world would go over Flappy Bird. What makes Pokemon Go's potential far brighter is the fact that Niantic, over all, seems much more willing to work towards newer evolution's that serve a wider population without sacrificing the core game elements.
Where Nguyen stepped further and further away from his popularity, Niantic seems to be leaning in.
After all, the news for the disenfranchised and disabled isn't all bad. Countless Reddit posts have highlighted how Pokemon GO is helping people with everything from autism to severe depression stop isolating themselves from the world--and that's something very few other games have done.
All that remains to be seen is whether or not Niantic will make a long-term commitment to improve the game, or whether they'll leave it as-is and let it fizzle out when it inevitably does. We hope for the former.