I was 13 years old. Other kids in my class were talking about a video game I had never heard of. After talking to my older brother we soon had copies of Pokemon Red and Blue. There were 150 of them and no, I did not catch them all. Many years later I tried picking up one of the newer iterations of the much beloved game and found I couldn’t continue playing because these games demand a significant amount of your time. To be the very best you had to grind through every wild Pokemon you found to make your Pokemon stronger. That grind almost becomes a mind numbing second job.
So how did Pokemon Go take over the entire planet in 2016 to become one of the most Googled things on the Internet? Here’s a little history.
I’ll be back
For most people it seems like Pokemon Go is a sudden revival of an old video game. Truthfully, it never left. The popular video game series has been going strong on every portable gaming device Nintendo has made since it was first introduced on the Gameboy. Then there are the multitude of spin off games, numerous cartoon series, and a card game that is so popular they are still holding national tournaments.
For a company that has dedicated years to developing its own mobile devices, a free mobile app for smart phones seemed unlikely. So it was interesting that Nintendo chose to go with a mobile app when they maintained a ‘no mobile gaming’ stance for quite some time. In recent years they’ve performed an about-face on this position, and not too soon considering the company has struggled for quite a few years with their underperforming consoles.
Nintendo has been trying for a while to raise awareness about physical health and fitness. The original Wii would display regular reminders to players about taking breaks from their game and going outside. Later on during the Wii’s lifetime, Nintendo released software called Wii Fit that could be purchased with an exercise board. The game had numerous activities to test and improve different areas of fitness. It sought to create workout schedules that would check your weight and balance then record this data and give you regular reports on your progress. While it was an interesting idea and found some popularity among senior citizens, it was ultimately a light workout tool that couldn’t produce better results than your average exercise schedule.
This is where we come to the ingenious idea of Pokemon Go. Nintendo tried to create a full-on exercise video game but they couldn’t get past the fact that checking into Wii Fit still felt like work.
Pokemon Go, on the other hand, is a free gaming app with micro-transactions for purchasing in-game items. There are so many games like this, and at first glance you’d assume most people tired of that model for mobile games would take a hard pass. But Pokemon Go has two strong things going for it. One, everyone who played a Pokemon game as a kid will get that instant wave of nostalgia. Two, Nintendo and Niantic are giving you the option to be lazy and pay real money to play the game or to get outside and play the game for free. It’s a stick and carrot model that uses a classic video game series to bribe you into exercising.
Since the release of the game there have been so many stories to come out from this game. There are sad ones like the young woman finding a body. There are strange stories like the two men who walked off a cliff because they weren’t looking where they were going (luckily they survived). There are also heroic stories like two men going on a regular Pokemon hunt where they stumbled upon a suspicious looking man who had an arrest warrant and detained him for police to arrive. My favourite has been the everyday heroes who have been dropping lures to attract Pokemon around children’s hospitals so the patients can still enjoy the game like everyone else. In fact, people are doing it here in Edmonton too. Download the game for yourself and take a trip down to the University Hospital. You’ll find a constant resupply of lures and Pokemon swarming the area.
These hot-ticket news items are just expanding the brand further, helping Pokemon Go take over the world, one Google search at a time.
Why Pokemon Go is working
There is a ton of research that speaks to the benefits and successes of gamification. Pokemon Go is perhaps one of the best examples we’ve seen. It solves the problems people typically have with video games, like the sedentary, solitary nature of many existing games. It plays to our nostalgia, which is one of the strongest psychological pulls there is. Pokemon is familiar to an entire generation, and appealing to an entirely new one. It implements augmented reality, which makes the game feel more connected to your environment. It provides ongoing rewards for multiple different types of activity milestones. It incorporates a social element. It’s free to play, and you already have the equipment on you at all times. It allows you to play while you’re going about your day–walking to work, waiting at a bus stop, generally getting from point A to point B. It’s also a bit controversial, which means people are talking about it.
Pokemon Go also has huge potential for areas like tourism (Pokestops lead players to notable and historic areas of the city), business (restaurants and cafes were quick to capitalize on nearby Pokestops), mental health (it has been helping individuals with autism and anxiety disorders), physical health (people are DOUBLING their physical activity), social interactions, and even city planning.
There are a handful of KEENers in the office who play, and it helps us get out and move around a bit at lunch. It connects members of the team, and it gives us a little brain break to help us re-energize and shake off the cobwebs.
Want to get in on the craze? Be alert, be respectful, be smart, and be safe, and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy Pokemon Go too.