I caved the other day and let my kids play Pokémon Go at the park. I read all the articles about it beforehand to make sure I wasn’t opening up some Pandora’s box that would lead — like a twentieth century gateway drug — toward a new dimension of screen-time addiction for my boys. We downloaded it, registered, did a quick tutorial, and they were off to the races.
But after seeing it in in real life, I still don’t quite get it.
On one hand, I understand the juxtaposition of the real world and a virtual world, with augmented reality allowing you to see these strange little creatures embedded in an otherwise mundane habitat. I like that people aren’t tethered to a console and are outside walking around — although like third-screen zombies afraid to look up for fear of missing something (ironic statement, I know).
I get that this is a cultural moment that taps into the zeitgeist of a generation of adults who grew up with the whole Pokémon phenomenon and allows them to relive elements of their youth in a newly hipster-saturated world. I get all that, but I still don’t “get” the game.
The game has certainly tapped into something. From what I’ve seen, the game has been downloaded more than the Twitter app, in a fraction of the time it took for Twitter to catch on. Pokémon dominates my news feed in social media and “real news” as well. In one respect, it’s giving us a welcome diversion from all the insanity that’s going on in the world — but it’s also an escapist means of avoiding having to talk about all that insanity. Maybe that’s a good thing, or maybe it’s not.
I’m curious to see if this heralds a new step in gaming, whether it be augmented and/or virtual reality, or whether this is a one-off fad that will go the way of Second Life and other temporary fads of years past. Will Nintendo be able to harness this exposure and opportunity to re-establish itself in the pantheon of the current gaming landscape?
I think the answer for me lies in the reaction of my boys to playing the game. They played the first time for an hour, walking around the park and following a path toward gyms and stops of all kinds. After an hour, they put down the phone and we kept walking around the park, exploring the rest of the surrounding landscape with our very own eyes. We had fun throwing coins in the fountain and racing on the soccer field to see who was the fastest (my seven-year-old always wins, but only because I let him).
It’s now been four days since we opened up the app, and my boys have yet to mention it. They do have virtual battles with the actual Pokémon cards from time to time, but more often than not they just read the cards and try to organize them in different ways that somehow make sense to their fresh young minds. The addiction to Pokémon Go has yet to set in — which is amazing, considering how much my older son is addicted to all kinds of games on the iPad.
So what path will Pokémon Go and alternate reality handheld gaming take? My guess is we haven’t yet reached the tipping point. I don’t expect to see game after game that captures the broader market like Pokémon. I still think mobile gaming is a niche, and AR/VR gaming is a subset of that market still. If my kids are reverting back to other games on their devices already and this one hasn’t garnered all their attention, then I don’t worry that the sea change has occurred yet.
Of course, I could be wrong. My bet on the over-under is four weeks. If we’re still talking about Pokémon in a month, I’ll consider this more than a fad. If Pokémon can capture more of the mainstream press than Taylor Swift vs. The Kardashian/Kanye connection, then I guess I’ll have lost my bet.