Monthly Three: Pokémon Go and home

If television and game consoles were a way to keep young people at home, away from arcades and other unfavoured places, Pokémon Go is the complete opposite. It doesn’t only endorse people to go outside, but also to mingle with each other. It is a common factor that people can share. Game culture has never been only for certain sect of people, it has always been for everyone.

Pokémon Go throws out the notion of nerds sitting inside their homes. It shows that everybody plays electronic games and the notion of hardcore is meaningless. Some people have taken the hunt to the point of canoeing in the middle of a lake just to battle a Gym there. That’s hardcore, and these are your normal everyday people. Not computer geeks or the like.

Pokémon Go is essentially anti-VR, and companies should take notice of this. VR requires you to sit inside and walk inside your room in a virtual reality, but what’s the point when you can walk outside much cheaper, in real world, while catching Pokémon? Nobody wants to pay 800 dollars to walk inside your own room. Virtual reality takes you into another world, so to speak. Pokémon Go makes you to the real world. VR can’t beat real world.

The best thing about Pokémon Go is that it picks up the best parts of both boys’ and girls’ cultures. There is competition, but it’s friendly and interactive. People interact with each other, and not just via messages. Completely unknown people talk to each other and tell tales, often helping each other.

Electronic games have always been about being social. From fares and events to penny arcades, from game parlors to game arcades and ultimately, to bars and shopping malls, game culture has never been a hobby of the few. Even with consoles they tended to have a strong multiplayer element to them. Super Mario Bros. again as an example with its two-player mode. From the very beginning, electronic game culture has been people going out. Television didn’t beat it, neither did home consoles. Handheld gaming is not popular only because of the good games, but because it is portable and allows completely unknown people to meet with each other. Hell, I remember trading with and battling few strangers on a bus trip in the late 1990’s.

What’s the key in Pokémon Go? It adds to reality, it does not try to replace it. The same applied to Wii’s remote. The hardcore or the game industry can’t fathom this because they’re too deep up their ass to realize that game and play culture is universal, everybody is part of it. Expansion of gaming audience at its core is the same thing as putting Donkey Kong into a bar. Whenever somebody mentions about normies, it’s best to laugh at them and point out that they are the normies. They are taking part in thousands of years of cultural tradition of people playing games. From cultural point of view, there is nothing new about Pokémon Go. Games are entertainment for the masses, not for the secluded. The technological advances have allowed this form of electronic gaming to happen. Remember Skannerz?

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Skannerz’ idea at its basic concept is very similar. Find creatures in nature (barcodes) and battle other people. There are multiple games on both Android and Apple app stores that still do this. Pokémon Go of course has sixteen years of tech development in its favour. The scale is a bit different, as Skannerz was deemed just a child’s toy, Pokémon is a cultural phenomena that has seeped through layer after layer. Pikachu and friends are synonymous with gaming to the same extent as Pac-Man and Mario. After all, gaming is not sub-culture. Playing games is high culture.

It’s not just culturally interesting game. Pokémon Go has helped people to get over anxiety issues. Both Twitter and Tumblr have posts about people having easier time to interact with others through the game. Fresh air really does that too, just getting outside can do wonders. The same applies to depression. This is the same effect we heard in Pinball Wizard going through.

Despite the game encouraging interaction, it does not force it in itself. Within games like The Sims, character interaction is very strict, inorganic. This sort of digital interaction through does not replace, and can not replace real world discussion and interactions. This is why multiplayer games have always been popular on consoles. MMORPGs are all about human interaction as well.

Whether or not Pokémon Go will be a flash in the pan will be an open question, but it has already left its mark. It’s bigger than Wii Sports, as people can just jump in without a console and use their existing phone. If console makers would take notice of this, they’d realise that using existing hardware instead of pushing new for the sake of hardware power would benefit everyone, but they don’t want games. They want better hardware for the sake of hardware.

It’s the biggest mobile phone game we’ve seen thus far, which more or less tells about the quality of mobile games than anything else. Most importantly, Pokémon Go is a testament on how complex game systems are reserved for the small audience. All the games that have made a large impact on the cultural facet have been dead simple. The usual examples apply, from Pong onwards.

This is Nintendo at its best. This happens when Nintendo returns to their arcade roots. Not in physical form, but in terms of accessibility and cultural approachability. Electronic gaming needs to go back outside after few decades of staying inside.

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