The suddenly ubiquitous phone app game has a quite positive upside
Pokémon Go has taken the country and Scenic City by storm and like any viral phenomena these days it is a special coalesce of technology, commerce, and nostalgia and timing.
The mobile game revives a decades-old Japanese franchise for the twenty first century. The original Pokémon game was released in 1995 for GameBoy, Nintendo’s first handheld portable gaming system. The goal of the new game is to allow players to hunt fictional monsters in the real world. Using GPS technology, the game tracks where players are and places Pokémon, or pocket monsters, in the physical real world, visible only through a smartphone’s camera. The idea is to catch and train the monsters, which will help players level up.
The game is free to download but in-app purchases can help players advance more quickly. Other major elements of the game include PokéStops, which gives players in-game items when they log into the app. These stops are tied to real physical locations such as parks, churches or stores.
I decide to head down to Coin Op, a bar on MLK Boulevard dedicated to retro video games, to see what gamers think about the new national obsession.
“It’s good that it’s getting people involved,” says Trey, a local computer developer. “There are some privacy issues but nothing that can’t be solved with a few patches.”
Coin Op Owner Brian Hennen echoes the sentiment. “It’s getting those who wouldn’t normally get out socializing and discovering new places.”
Coin Op sits between two PokéStops and Hennen can already see how the game can be good for business. “I was here last night and everybody was walking around with their phones trying to find Pokémon coins.”
Already businesses are using PokéStops to draw people to their locations. Others have offered customers discounts if they’ve aligned with one of the game’s three factions.
I asked Hennen if he might consider advertising with the game and he said he isn’t sure. “This thing is so new it’s still working itself out.”
Exercise enthusiasts are another group noticing the Pokémon hubbub. “I’m jogging and I see everyone walking around heads buried in their phones,” says Jeff Aldridge. “You’re just laughing because you know what they are doing.”
But this current craze wouldn’t be possible without the original Pokémon game. “It’s what we wanted to do all along,” says Donna Nguyen, a gamer who grew up playing Pokémon on a Nintendo console. “Smart phones now make the game a reality, so it fuses nostalgia and current technology together perfectly.”
And the success of Pokémon Go couldn’t come at a better time for the future of virtual and augmented reality. Big strides are already being made in the advancement of VR headsets and now the augmented reality of Pokemon Go promises to take that virtual reality into the real world.
“It’s a brave new world out there,” says Aldridge. “We’re just going to have to sit back and see where it takes us.”