Culture

Why The World Needs To Quit Grouching And Learn To Love Pokémon Go

People are having fun, getting outside and making genuine human connections. Stop hatin'.

Pokemon Go

Yesterday morning, I got clipped by a mobility scooter while trying to catch a Voltorb.

I’d been flinging balls at the damned thing whilst walking down my driveway, and just as I hit my mark and the little stars clicked onscreen, signifying I’d finally caught arguably the laziest piece of Pokémon design imaginable, I took one step too far onto the footpath without looking. A wizened old man in a cherry red mobility scooter thudded into my thigh, swore at me, glared, then kept going, which in my mind makes it a hit-and-run. I’ve just moved to Toorak, and the amount of angry, rich old people hooning around means I really should have known better, but dammit, it was a Voltorb! A Voltorb! I yelled after him, as I nursed the growing welt on my thigh.

This is what Pokémon Go does to an otherwise rational adult. It deftly blends adventure with childishness. Pokémon Go, for those of you who’ve either been too busy or have been folding your arms like Dickensian villains and harumphing your way past the ocean of jubilant tweets and Facebook updates on the topic, is a free mobile game that links up with your Google account to populate your actual world with catchable digital Pokémon. And it’s utterly bonkers, in the best possible way.

How Pokémon Took Over The World (Again)

Last September, Nintendo dropped the following trailer.

We all laughed. There’s no way, we muttered to ourselves, that crowds of people will bound down the street, all laughing and co-operating to bag the rarest Pokémon. There’s no way this will be anything other than a disappointment. Yet here we are. Two days after launching Pokémon Go, Nintendo’s stocks have risen by US$ 7.5 billion.

If you somehow still haven’t installed it, this is how it works: you log in, create an avatar, then you see that avatar on a pastel-colored version of the map. Points of interest — landmarks, weird statues, graffiti, even post offices — are rendered in-game as Pokéstops, which every few minutes (if you’re close enough to them in person) you can swish with your thumb to earn Pokéballs, potions and other goodies.

Proximity is the key here. In order to grab Pokémon out in the world, or to hit up Pokéstops, or even to battle at Pokémon Gyms, you need to get out of the house and actually go there. This is why you’ve undoubtedly seen enormous, scattered groups of people clutching their phones, grinning, making beelines towards random locations. People are out there, collecting Pokémon.

And they’re interacting! Nintendo just provided the raw ingredients of Pokémon nostalgia with a dash of geocaching; what’s happening out there is because people are genuinely taken with the fact that the real world has become an interactive gaming space. A few days ago, a friend of mine, Guy Blomberg (one of the great minds behind PAX Australia) put out a call for all those interested to take part in a Pokémon Go walk in Sydney. 5,000 said they’d attend, 11,000 expressed interest in going, and sure enough, thousands of Pokémon Go players rocked up and made a cross-city pilgrimage. The walk has been covered by press worldwide, and follow-up events all over Australia are being organised as we speak.

Pokémon Go

Image by Guy Blomberg.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Pokémon Go

There’s something indescribably moreish and magically gratifying about running around, actually hunting Pokémon. The regular Pokémon series has undergone countless revamps over the years, with the latest releases (Sun and Moon) coming out shortly, and while Go lacks the detail and satisfying metagame of the main series, it captures (sorry) the spirit of the franchise in a very palpable way.

Two nights ago, two of my friends and I were heading to dinner near Melbourne Central, and decided to see if there were any good Pokémon about near the state library, only to find easily a hundred giggling, yelling Pokémon Go trainers huddled around, comparing notes, bellowing happily whenever a rare find would suddenly appear in their midst. We joined in, and before we knew it, the crowd spontaneously migrated up towards Parliament, wending its way through Chinatown past landmarks brimming with wild Pokémon. It was like White Night, only better.

Last night, I caught a tram down Toorak Road to head to my favourite burger joint. I was trying to catch a Caterpie, and looked up to realise that I’d been staring intensely into my phone whilst aiming it squarely at a young woman sitting opposite me. There was an awkward pause, before she laughed and raised her phone: she was trying to catch the same damned Caterpie. As if on cue, a bearded hipster with a cast on his leg, sitting halfway across the tram, laughed, waved, and proudly brandished HIS phone.

At the burger joint, I was eating and trying to ensnare a particularly stubborn Doduo, when from the booth behind me I heard a group of people complaining that there weren’t any Pokémon in this particular establishment. I coughed, and lifted my phone, showing them the Doduo sitting not a metre from us. “Yeah, there are”, I said. They invited me over to their booth and we had a very odd, very burgery bonding session.

This is what Pokémon Go does: it brings the raw ingredients, we bring the magic. We do the lifting, which makes it such an odd phenomenon given the current rise of VR, in which you stand in your room exploring a virtual world. Here, you leave the room and run around desperately chasing a Geodude into oncoming traffic.

Oh, right. There’s also been some pretty bonkers stories coming out about Pokémon Go, which hint at the inevitable insane potential of this wonderment goodwill jamboree. Four robbers in Missouri were caught by police after using an isolated Pokéstop and a lure (which you apply to a Pokéstop to increase the likliehood of wild Pokémon appearing) to rob people. They had a gun and everything! A woman in Wyoming was following a Pokémon trail into the woods when she stumbled across a dead body. Louis Park, an American volunteer fighting against ISIS with Kurdish forces in Iraq, is playing and has challenged Daesh to a Pokémon battle. The Westboro Baptist Church, designated a Gym by the game, has been bested and is being defended by a Clefairy called LoveIsLove.

Provided Nintendo add more generations of Pokémon, fix the various bugs and crashes, add duels and trading and generally keep the game community fed, this could be a long, wild ride.

So if you’re sitting on the sidelines in a curmogeonly huff, consider diving in, if for no other reason than you could end up going on an actual adventure in the process.

Or you could get hit by traffic. Eyes up, trainers.