I have no emotional attachment to Pokémon. I was three years into college when the first Nintendo game was released in Japan in 1996. By the time it was unveiled to North America in late 1998, I was settling into my first corporate position and planning out how to propose marriage to my longtime fiancé. I had other things going on. The only thing I knew about Pokémon was that my soon-to-be nephew (a toddler) always wanted to go to McDonalds so he could get a Pikachu thing in his happy meal. That’s what I equate Pokémon to: baby toys. So, if I sound dismissive of the IP, know that it’s only because they might as well have made a Beanie Baby Go for all I care.
Ah, Pokémon Go. What a fascinating concept. What a rocky execution. I had absolutely no plans whatsoever to download this game. Mobile games really aren’t my thing, and obviously neither is Pokémon. But as the screenshots started rolling in, it became clear to me that the idea of augmented reality (integrating aspects of the game into the world around you using your phone camera) and actual physical space did intrigue me. Still, I was happy to observe from afar until I learned that Roger Edwards from Contains Moderate Peril had sideloaded the game (it’s not yet available in the UK) onto his device. Surely I can’t out-curmudgeon the master of podcasting curmudgeouness! That was the bump I needed to download the game (legitimately) and see what all the fuss was about.
So, I launched into the character “customization”, which really means you can choose to be a teen-looking guy or girl, and what color hair and eyes you have. This avatar is what you see in 3rd person mode as you move around a little Google Maps style space that represents the streets in your physical world. The premise that is introduced via a quick “practice round” is that these little Pokémon guys can pop up anywhere in the world. They’ll show up on your screen as you walk around, and then you have to toss a little ball at them to “catch” them. What you do with them after you catch them, I have no idea. But I’ll get into that soon.
I’m not against a nice walk, even in 90 degree weather with near 90 percent humidity, so I grabbed by 13 year old son and we started walking down the street. About three houses up, I saw a wormy thing. According to my poke-map it looked to be in or near my neighbor’s garage. This could be a problem, I thought – I can’t go snooping around my neighbor’s garage with my phone camera pointed out as if taking some kind of inventory! Luckily, I only had to tap on wormy to bring him into the augmented reality portion of the game (he appeared at my feet on the road in front of me). One ball toss, two ball tosses….finally caught him on toss #3. Yes! A new little wormy dude. Plus, I leveled up! Woohoo! Level 2.
There were some floaty hearts on the road ahead, so I continued on. About three more houses up, I saw a purple rat. He was hanging out beside a mailbox. Got him, too. Up the road, there was a thing called a Poke stop, which gave me more balls. Later in the day, I launched the app while out running errands, I found another rat in the Red Robin, then one in front of Target. Apparently there was a gym nearby, which is used to battle your little purple rats, but it requires you to be level 5 to compete. I’m still level 2, so I can’t yet participate in the legalized cock fighting.
Yesterday morning passed more or less Pokémon-less, although I did launch into the app to see if there were any worshiping with me at church (there weren’t, but there was a poke-stop by the church sign!) until the afternoon when I decided to go on another walk. Mrs. Brax was along this time, so we planned to walk all the way into town and back to get in some fitbit steps. It was the perfect opportunity to snag some wormies and rats along the way. The only problem is, there weren’t any Pokémon. Not a single one! We walked and walked, and I kept checking my phone like an idiot the whole time. We walked into town. Nothing. We stopped at the ice cream shop. Nothing. We walked back. Nothing. 5.3 miles and 11k steps later, I had not seen a single Pokémon or poke-stop or poke-gym or anything else but a sad little anime avatar with tired legs and sweat dripping down his face.
Now, I know I don’t live in a booming metropolis. The official population of my town is around 3,000 people, but I’m finding it a little tough to want to launch this game again. I’m tempted to say that it’s a bad game, but stuck at level 2, I’m not even sure I’ve seen enough of the game to make that kind of judgment! I still love the idea of augmented reality but the limited exposure I’ve had to this aspect of the game makes it, too, kind of a non-factor. Battles? Collections? Training (whatever that is)? None of these seem to be in my immediate future. Not that I’m terribly upset about this. I don’t have time to go on a “Pokémon adventure” (as I heard one local teen planning with his friends). I don’t have any nostalgic feelings towards Pokémon. At the end of the day, all I really have is another way to drain my smartphone battery.
Oh, and about 3 purple rats.