On July 6, 2016, Pokémon Go, a free smartphone game, was released to the public. Since then, millions of people around the world have become addicted to the new gaming phenomenon, and we’ve quickly come to recognize the familiar Pokémon stance: heads down, phones up, a look of oblivion to the world outside the fascinating augmented reality.
Many players note that Pokémon Go distinguishes itself as one of the first video games to lure people off of their couches and into the world. Khalid Horne, a recent graduate of Wilmington Friends, agrees, “My favorite part is the adventure; you don’t know where the good Pokémon are, so you have to explore places you usually don’t go to just to see what Pokémon are around.” Within just a few days of starting the game, his classmate Margeaux Pantano had hit PokéStops (Pokémon hotspots) up and down Kennett Pike, in and around Rockford Park, at Brandywine Town Center, the tower near the Charter School of Wilmington, the Museum of Natural History, and neighborhoods and businesses around Trolley Square.
On a quick walk through Trolley Square, you can easily spot a dozen (if not more) engaged players fighting off creatures on their phones, seemingly clueless to the non-virtual cars whizzing by. Mike Kelly, owner of Kelly’s Logan House, says he’s observed “increased pedestrian traffic on our front sidewalk, as that area is a hot spot. Some of these Pokémon aficionados do stop in for a drink or a burger.” Of Pokémon oblivion, Kelly relayed the story of reaching into the road to save a player who’d crossed into oncoming traffic, “That incident was not funny.”
Other business owners have noticed that the Pokémon craze arches across generations, as kids and their parents can be seen playing through restaurants, stores, museums — even libraries. The Claymont Library is an official PokéGym, and just this week they launched a Pokémon Go Adventure Club that will meet weekly on Wednesdays in August.
In fact, the creators of Pokémon Go have begun announcing sponsored locations for the game, including nearly all of the 3,000 McDonald’s locations in Japan, with in-game “gyms” and “Poké spots.” Roll outs are expected soon in the U.S.
Jennifer Acord, Communications Manager for the Delaware Museum of Natural History explained their unique connection to Pokémon. “The creator of Pokémon, Satoshi Tajiri, collected insects as a boy and was interested in becoming an entomologist. As areas of Japan became more urban, there weren’t as many opportunities to go out and explore nature. His idea involved creating games allowing children to collect creatures – albeit fictional fantasy-based creatures. But, if you look at many of these characters, there are connections to actual animals,” she said.
Since not all Pokémon players go into the museum to catch Pokémon, Acord is not quite sure about exact increase in visitor numbers. However, the museum is hosting Pokémon Sunday on July 24th to celebrate the connection between Pokémon and natural history (download the app for discount admissions or read more at http://www.delmnh.org/event/pokemon-sunday).
Downtown Wilmington has also been impacted by the Pokémon Go craze, with financial buildings and law offices serving as arenas or “gyms” for the game. Brian Joyce, a digital architect for a large financial company, followed the buzz before the release of the app. “In the weeks leading up to the launch, I was listening to Google and Nintendo fanboys debate the potential success of Pokémon Go. Beta testers were raving about the game and people were side-loading the app to get a head start prior to the official launch. Being more of a casual gamer, I decided to wait until the official release. The morning of the release, I downloaded the game and fired it up to get a quick look before starting work. By the time my workday was over, and I was able to get back to the game, the servers had already crashed. I instantly saw the appeal.”
Joyce has continued playing over the past two weeks, although his opportunities to play are limited since he does not live in an urban area. He agrees with Horne and many other players that one of the best parts of the game is that it gets people out of the house and shared a story about one friend who broke a ten-year pattern just because of the game. “Every day he comes to work at 7, never takes lunch, and leaves at 5. If nothing, he is a creature of habit. On the Monday after the game came out, he asked me if I wanted to go to lunch. He spent the majority of lunch walking around catching Pokémon. Now he’s taking lunch every day.”
Joyce suspects that Pokémon Go can continue to be a force beyond its initial buzz. “With powerhouses like Google and Nintendo behind this, I believe it has a good chance of sticking around for a while. But only time will tell.”
“If they follow through with planned updates, like the ability to trade or add some type of PvP match-making, it should be able to maintain a respectable player base. Even if a tenth of the current player base sticks around, that should be enough to keep developers employed for future enhancements and content updates,” remarked Joyce.
Horne had a less technical but just as insightful answer. “I think it will stay popular just because of how cool it is. It’s the first app I’ve seen that makes people leave their homes and brings people together. Not to mention that they will improve the game the longer it’s out, which will make even more people play. It’s a game that everyone plays…old people to young people…black or white; it’s just pretty cool.”
Even if Pokémon Go itself does not stand the test of time, it has opened up a whole new world of gaming possibilities. Joyce finished up explaining, “This free app has given us a glimpse of what augmenting our reality could mean for gaming.”