A lot of people have asked me what Pokemon Go is. I think it’s time we had an explanation for people who don’t quite understand. I’ve been a fan of Pokemon for twenty years. When you live with affection in your heart for something that long you learn to explain it to people in very simple terms. Here goes.
Note 1: Printed here is the full version of an article I originally wrote for 614 Magazine. When I submitted what is below the editor said, “We’re not going to publish a gd novel for you about Pokemon. Get it down to a thousand words Parker!” He didn’t actually call me Parker, I just added that so I’d feel like spiderman. He did say ‘gd’ though. You can read the 614 article here.
Note 2: For brevity I won’t be using the accent over the E in Pokemon. I don’t feel like learning that keyboard shortcut and people who really need this explanation won’t be typing that way anywhoozle.
“What the hell is a pokeyman?”
First. It’s Pokemon. As in Poke like with your finger. Eh like a Canadian. Mon as in a child using an inadvertently racist Jamaican accent to say ‘Man.’
“Ok nerd, what is a Pokemon?”
Remember in the 90’s when you were trying to figure out why you had funny feelings about girls? So while you were doing that a bunch of us were playing this video game where you captured adorable monsters and then used them for an elaborate virtual version of cockfighting; and we wanted so badly to live in that world. By a bunch of us, I mean the original versions of the game sold more than 22 million copies world wide. So it was a metric fuck ton of people playing this game that has gone on to create a multi-billion dollar franchise that includes anime, manga, movies, merchandise, and a bunch of spin off video and card games.
This new app allows us to inhabit in that world. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality version of the original game beloved by so many people. I vividly remember being in middle school and desperately wanting to give up everything to be in that universe, and this smart phone app is literally the closest thing I can get to that.
“I get it. You like video games. So what do you do in Pokemon Go?”
You wander around in the real world with the app turned on in your phone. It vibrates when a cute little monster is near. Then you flick magical techno balls at the adorable beasties trying to capture them. It’s kind of like humane poaching. Also, for some reason once they are captured inside the ball they go from being a wild animal to falling in love with you. I don’t know if the ball brain washes them or if all pokemon species are inherently susceptible to Stockholm syndrome, but that’s what happens. When you catch enough of them you can improve their stats and go to semi-randomly determined locations called Gyms and battle each other. Winners get a sense of accomplishment that is similar to beating a dog at checkers.
Players seem to fall into one of three main groups.
- Some people, like my girlfriend, just want to collect all the cute little monsters. That’s totally cool.
- Some people want to control the Gyms because it gives them an artificial sense of power. That’s also totally cool so long as you aren’t a jerk bucket about it.
- The last group are folks reliving their youth and the chance to exist inside a game they loved. That’s ultra totally cool. In the interest of full disclosure I’m in the third group.
Also, you can take pictures with your camera and have the Pokemon superimposed onto real life. Any way you slice it. They are adorable. Case in point:
A wild Acrobat appeared!
“I know, they are ultra adorable. But, the gyms are virtual. Do you have to be in the same actual space to fight someone?”
Sort of. Are you familiar with the game Ingress? No? We will get back to that in a second.
Essentially you can leave your Pokemon at the gym to claim it for your team and it will automatically defend the gym against anyone who wants to take it over. You do have to be physically close to the gym in order to interact with it. Think of it like a complicated version of capture the flag where instead of grabbing a scrap of cloth you were forcing make believe animals to do professional wrestling. You have an influence on your Pokemon while its battling. You are in control if you are the attacker. The defender’s actions are automatic because while you aren’t physically there, your Pokemon that you left to defend it is stored on the game’s servers. In a way you are interacting with other people on a kind of weird time delay with a computer acting as your surrogate when you are defending a gym. In game battling against other people you encounter on the street is expected to arrive in future versions.
Remember when I said the gyms are semi-random? That’s why I asked you about Ingress.
The same company, Niantic Labs, made Ingress and Pokemon Go. Ingress is a similar game play but wasn’t as well known. It does have millions of devoted players world wide, but it hasn’t really made it into the cultural phenomenon that Pokemon Go has. Ingress is a similar augmented reality game that uses real GPS locations, and players are divided into factions, and you should go read about it if you want to know more. The point is they mapped over physical locations from that game into Pokemon Go.
The locations in Ingress were user generated and then curated by the company that owns the game. All the gyms and Pokestops (areas you reload on items needed for game play) are mapped from a similar type of location in Ingress. All of those points in Ingress were art installations so all of the physical locations in Pokemon go are also some sort of art location. That’s why the Pokestops are all named things like, ‘Mural Next To Little Caesar’s Pizza’ or ‘Iron Sculpture Man In Abandoned Parking Lot.’
“You said Teams. What the hell is teams?”
When you reach level five you are asked to join one of three factions.
- Yellow is Team Instinct and it’s mascot is a Zapdos. That’s a crazy bird pokemon made out of electricity.
- Red is Team Valor and it’s mascot is a Moltres. That is a crazy bird pokemon made out of fire.
- Blue is Team Mystic and it’s mascot is an Articuno. That is a crazy bird pokemon made out of ice and clouds.
Each of these teams works cooperatively to take and hold the gyms. Holding a gym can earn you in game currency as well as experience for you and your pokemon. The higher the level you are the more satisfaction you will get from beating a dog at checkers. The team concept is inspired by a plot device used in the original games and anime called Team Rocket. Technically they were villains, but they were lovable and occasionally redeemed themselves by helping folks out. Basically when you were in middle school and you were arguing over which character you wanted to be, enough disaffected youths wanted to be be Team Rocket and so the concept of villains who are sometimes your friend has stayed a core plot feature of Pokemon.
“So Pokemon Go includes elements of gang wars over turf?”
“Which one is the best?”
Team Instinct for life. Don’t be an idiot. Our mascot is a bird made of lightning. That’s baller as fuck man. Next question.
“This is all starting to make a little bit of sense. How much does it cost to play?”
It is free to download on iOS and Android but has the option for in app purchases.
“What’s the catch?”
You can play the game without spending a dime on it. But, since certain actions expend items you have to refill them. You can do that by visiting Pokestops. Those are like gyms but instead of battling they spit out items like Pokeballs when you hang out next to them.
“What the fuck is a pokey ball?”
It’s Pokeball. Poke as in finger. Eh as in…
“Whatever. Pokeball. What the hell is it?”
A Pokeball is what you use to catch a Pokemon
“The techno magic ball that causes adorable monsters to have Stockholm Syndrome?”
“Why should I care about pokeballs?”
Because they are why Nintendo’s stock price has increased by 40% in five days. Because this thing is a god damn gold mine.
“You’re shitting me.”
You can play the game completely for free, you just have to be willing to walk around. But if you live in an area without any Pokestops the temptation to buy a few Pokeballs can be overwhelming. Especially when the game coughs up a Pokemon you haven’t caught before. I mean who knows if you will ever see a Snorlax ever again? IT WAS ONLY POSSIBLE TO CATCH IT IN THE ORIGINAL GAME ONCE THIS MUST BE THE SAME THING!!! IT’S ONLY $0.99 FOR 20 POKEBALLS, I’LL ONLY SPEND THE MONEY THIS ONE TIME BECAUSE I NEED THAT LITTLE ELECTRONIC CUTIE MUFFIN TO COMPLETE MY SENSE OF SELF WORTH!!!
“There’s no way anyone reacts like that.”
It has become such a phenomenon because it hits the brain’s pleasure center in small doses and congratulates you little by little. It’s the same principle behind casinos keeping people at slot machines.
“But 40% means that Nintendo has added like 9 Billion dollars in value to it’s company.”
I’m sorry did I say gold mine? I meant platinum mine, but all the platinum is studded with diamonds and wearing panda skin soaked in ambergris spit up by albino sperm whales.
“This is insane.”
I’m not disputing that.
“Why are there sweaty nerds in my back yard? Don’t they know this is private property?”
First of all they are sweaty because the game was released in the middle of the summer when it’s 90 degrees outside. You are also sweaty. Everyone is sweaty right now. Second of all a lot of people went a lot of different ways after playing the original game for the first time 20 years ago. Some of them grew up to become well adjusted adults with spouses, houses, and kids. Some of them grew up to be comedians who write blogs explaining cultural phenomenon and also have large and attractive penises. Some of them grew up to become Juggalos, the questionably hygined fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse. I shit you not I saw a guy with a hatchet ninja tattoo at the park yesterday celebrating the catch of an Eevee. I wanted to take a picture of him but I was really close to finding an Electabuzz. Talk about a Sophie’s choice. The fact that you are seeing a stereotypical nerd in your back yard is luck of the draw.
As for why they are back there; remember when I explained that this was all location based and used your phone’s GPS? In theory the different pokemon have types. Grass, fire, electric, psychic, water, ect. Each pokemon species likes to live in a different environment. So if you are near a river or lake you are more likely to encounter a water type. In a field a grass type. In the city you may find Pokemon that were inspired by rats and pigeons and hipsters. The game has a type of radar that let’s people know their theoretical location in relation to a pokemon. That’s why you see people walking all over the place staring at their phones. There’s a real life social element to this game as well. When a pokemon pops up in a particular area it’s available for anyone who wants to try and catch it. This means there isn’t a competition to elbow each other out of the way. So players will tell each other where rare and cool pokemon are, sparking others to go to that area and try and catch an Onyx, or a Rhydon, or a Ponyta.
“Yeah, I understood that. You explained the GPS thing when we talked about Ingress. Why are they in my backyard?”
Oh! Some people are insensitive jerk buckets who care more about catching pokemon and beating a dog at checkers than respecting private property laws. People have been telling players not to break into hospitals and fenced off areas to catch the pokemon, but some people are just stupid. I’m sorry about that.
“I hear the game is pretty dangerous. Some people were mugged and one guy crashed his car into a tree.”
Play the game with some common sense. Don’t play while driving your car. I get the temptation, but just don’t do it. Those who do are probably the same kind of people who text and drive. The people who got mugged went to a rough area in the middle of the night. You have to use a little common sense. Criminals will use anything to their advantage. Fortunately no one got seriously injured and the police caught those muggers. Blaming Pokemon go for those guys robbing people is the same thing as blaming SmartCar for building such an excellent getaway vehicle.
“Yeah, but that one girl found a dead body.”
#WORSTGEOCACHINGEVER. Also, it’s not like that young woman killed him. Or did she? The story is still developing. I’m not saying Pokemon Go killed him, but that could be what happens if you try to catch Mewtwo before you’re the best. The very best. The best there ever was.
“Ok. I think I understand what it is, but I still think it’s stupid. It’s just a game and it doesn’t really matter”
YOU’RE STUPID!!! YOU DON’T REALLY MATTER!!! I HAVE TO GO BEAT A DOG AT CHECKERS!!! THIS CONVERSATION IS OVER!!!