Whenever I hear my daughter and son-in-law seeming to speak nonsensical gibberish, I’ve learned that they are talking about their Pokémon adventures. We recently moved from California to Texas. Somewhat tired of unpacking boxes, I consented to join them when they invited me to accompany them on a Pokémon hunt into one of my favorite cities, Austin.
What is it?
For the uninitiated, Pokémon Go is a smartphone-based game for both Android and Apple in which you try to capture creatures, Pokémon, on your own or in teams. Pokémon has been with us in various electronic manifestations since 1995 when it first appeared on the Nintendo Game Boy. Since then it has expanded into cartoons, video games, and merchandise, like stuffed Pikachus.
So as not to be a total innocent, I went to the Play Store on my phone and downloaded the game. In defense against the criticism that Pokémoners are so into their games that they walk into walls, the very first thing you see when you start the game is a safety admonition: “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.”
Then you meet Professor Willow, the internationally famous Pokémon expert who introduces the game. You design your character and the Professor takes you on your first hunt. Then you are on your own. You capture the Pokémon by throwing a ball at them. Looked like a beach ball to me.
The Pokémon are spread throughout the world by the game company, Niantic Labs, and you can view them against an animated background or, better, as an augmented-reality creature.
You are on your own until you make friends. To capture the bigger Pokémon, you need a little help from your friends, or maybe a lot.
When I accompanied daughter and son-in-law on their Pokémon raid into Austin, they met up with a group of a dozen other enthusiasts they had connected with through a Facebook page. The first Raid location, which happened at Pokémon Gyms, was in front of a post office. The cell phones worked their magic and then we were back into our cars and on our way to a hospital loading dock. More Pokémon met their fate. Finally, a Tacodeli parking lot. I bet the patrons inside were confused with all the people wandering around the parking lot poking at their phones.
At each location, the crowd remained mostly the same but the targets – Zapdos, Lugia and such – changed. These targets, some of which were called Legendaries – “available for only a limited time” – required a large crew to bring down.
Old Gamer Observations
I’ve been playing computer games for a while. I remember the excitement when the Officer’s Club at Fort Benning got its first two-player PONG game.
So, how does Pokémon Go stack up? It’s easy and free to get into. As you progress you can buy things from within the game such as Pokéballs, Egg Incubators, and Raid Passes. These make it easier to advance your character and fill your Pokédex. I was a little disappointed with the options to personalize my character, but that’s a minor point.
What is really appealing is that this is not a live-in-your-mother’s-basement game. There are other games that require teams, but you rarely meet people in person. Here, that is required. The group we were in were mostly 30-somethings, with one older person and one youngster. I heard one couple say that they were out every Saturday at 5:30 AM hunting the elusive creatures. (I won’t be joining, leaving more Legendaries for them.)
On the way back home, I heard my son-in-law say to my daughter, “I’m glad you got three Zapdos, even though I only got two. Maybe next time we should try to find an all Valor Group so we get more bonus balls.”
See, it all makes perfect sense now. Right?
Just one word of caution. When you see the Pikachu balloon during the next Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, do not throw a beach ball at it. The NYPD might not be as cool as you and I are now.
To find out more about Pokémon Go, check the Niantic Labs website, or just download it and dive in.