Pokemon GO and the Zeitgeist

Originally published on Trevor Trove on July 11, 2016

In the week-ish since launch, Pokemon GO has quickly become a phenomenon unlike anything I have every seen before. In my lifetime, Super Mario Bros. is probably the only other game that has come close to reaching the level of recognition that Pokemon GO has. Outside of that, you’re looking at games like Pong and Pac-Man as probably some of the other notable games that have reached as far and wide as something like this game and it seems like Pokemon GO is blowing them all away, thanks to the nearly universal accessibility of a smart phone.

I had a meeting tonight with the board of directors for a local theatre company that I have been working with for the better part of a decade. None of the other eight people around that table consider themselves gamers and outside of the occasional Words With Friends or Candy Crush, I’ve never heard a peep from them on the subject. But one of them loaded up Pokemon GO on their phone this morning and was very proud of her Squirtle. And everyone else knew about the game. They’ve seen people posting about it on social media. They’ve watched groups of people gather around each other at a park and all stand mesmerized at their phones as they try to catch their next Pokemon. They’ve seen the news stories about the game and that meme about kidnapping a 28-year-old in a van marked “Rare Pokemon Inside,” which I swear didn’t start making the rounds until after my write-up Saturday night.

If you’re not playing Pokemon GO, chances are pretty good you still know about it or you know someone who is, even in the territories where the game hasn’t been officially released yet. And that’s an incredible feat that I didn’t think I would ever see. My Facebook feed is filled with non-gamer friends excited about which Pokemon they’ve caught, which Team they’re representing, and finally being able to assign a Pokemon to a gym. It’s an incredible feeling being able to connect with people I’ve known for years over this game.

Yes, as a game, I stand by the fact that it is not great. But the side-effects of this bad game – bringing strangers together over a common interest, getting people out of the house and exercising, even beating “porn” in google searches – are all things no game has ever done before, and may never do again. There’s absolutely something magical about that.

Now if they could just stabilize the damn servers.

And add trading and battling with friends.

And put more Pokestops and/or gyms near my home and/or work.

And maybe explain anything about the game’s mechanics so people stop having to ask what everything means.

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