Funny To A Point – Pokémon Go Has Turned Me Into A Complete Idiot
If someone asked me to dream up the perfect game for me to make fun of, I don't think I could do better than a free-to-play, mobile, augmented reality-based Pokémon game. Pokémon Go's list of descriptors seems like a recipe for disaster, yet so far its biggest problem is the pounding the servers are taking from the absurd number of Pokénerds playing it. The most surprising part? You can add my name to the list of casualties.
As far as I know, you can't make a living by mocking Pokémon, but I reckon I've come as close to it as anyone has. I've applied my jerky analysis to countless Pokémon over the years. When Kyle got the insane notion to rank all 151 original Pokémon, I approached the ass-end of the list like a roast – and I roasted Kyle right along with them in yet another Pokémon feature (I swear he had it coming though; he's the Chimchar* of G.I. editors).
All this is to say that I like making fun of Pokémon. The Nintendo Defense Force often takes this as a sign that I hate Pokémon, Nintendo, and all that is right in the world. I really don't – all jokes aside, I simply grew out of Pokémon in my teens, and have never looked back. Until a week ago, at least.
I'm a bit susceptible to the bandwagon effect when it comes to trying out new games. It's the only reason I got indoctrinated into the devil cult that is Clash Royale, and Pokémon Go started out much the same way; you can only listen to your coworkers fawn incessantly over a game for so long before you finally break down and download it for yourself. It was when I saw Ben Hanson standing with his bike on a bridge (looking for, and failing to find, water Pokémon) during my drive to work that I figured it was time to see what all the fuss was about – after honking and giving him the finger, naturally.
There are two types of Pokémon players: Those who keep their starters forever even though they're worthless, and UNSPEAKABLE MONSTERS.
I downloaded the game as soon as I got to work and picked
Squirtle as my starter, because even as a Pokémon novice I know that Squirtle
is the best starter there's ever been and anyone who disagrees can take their
Charmander on a long walk off Castelia City's shortest pier. The novelty of Pokémon
Go was immediately apparent; you swivel your camera phone around your
environment until you spot an adorable animated creature floating on your carpet/desk/coworker's
crotch, and then flick animated Pokéballs at it until you catch it (the Pokémon,
that is). An hour or two later I had a half dozen or so
pocket monsters in my collection. It's cute. It's simple. It's fun.
Cut to three days later. I'm slowly trolling through the gravel parking lot of a seemingly abandoned nightmare factory looking for a creepy skull mural that's doubling as a red Pokémon gym (Team Valor 4 life!). A series of parked semi-trucks have nearly blocked off the only drivable path through the pothole-ridden lot, but I manage to snake my way around to the front entrance, which is closed and shrouded in darkness. I pull up as close as I can, but it's still not enough to get my floating avatar into the gym's perimeter. I think about giving up – I told my wife I was on my way home from work and am already 30 minutes late – but I notice that the gym has an extra open slot; I don't have to do anything to add my most powerful Pokémon to the gym's roster, other than get close enough to activate it.
Undeterred, I pull around behind the factory, abandoning any semblance of an excuse for why I'm creeping around an empty building. Along the way, I pass a giant garage door that's cracked open. Mechanical sounds emanate from inside – apparently it's not empty after all. I come up to a few trucks parked out back next to a door. I'm closer to the gym, but still a few feet away. Again, I ponder turning back, but it's too late. Pokémon Fever has got the best of me.
"Dammit, Jeff, what the hell are you doing?" whispers a strange Pokémon on my shoulder that in hindsight may have just been my inner conscience. I ignore my better judgment and walk through the tall weeds up to the side of the building, directly in front of the parked cars. Huzzah! I'm within range! I click on the gym, but the app hangs (seriously, Niantic, fix your servers!). As I wait for the game to load again, I imagine what a group of giant factory workers who grind steel all day and have tattoos of their dead mothers (who they murdered) would think if they saw me standing conspicuously next to their trucks – somehow I don't think "I'm playing a Pokémon ARG" would get me out of the predicament. As I frantically swipe my way through the game's menus, I unconsciously repeat a notion I had earlier, which has now become a mantra: "Please god, don't let me die playing Pokémon Go."
This isn't a picture of the actual Pokéstop I was at, but it might as well be. (Photo Credit: Busch Gardens Tampa)
After a few more tense moments, the gym has a new Pokémon on its roster – a high-level Tangela I picked up in a parking lot next to the bridge I mocked Ben for stopping on a few days earlier (but hey, at least I caught something!). Suffice it to say, I hightailed it back to my car and drove off as quickly as I could. Also suffice it to say, DON'T BE STUPID LIKE ME: The real world is a fun but sometimes dangerous place to explore, and there are some things out there you definitely don't want to catch.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a mobile game – or any game – would inspire me to go through such real-world effort (not to mention stupidity) to play it. Flailing my arms to the Wii was more effort than I was willing to exert, and yet I've already walked over a dozen miles while playing Pokémon Go. Hell, last night alone I spent 90 minutes chasing a phantom Meowth around my Bermuda Triangle of a neighborhood (seriously, Niantic, fix the Poké-radar!). I'm honestly not sure what that says about me, or that I care to know.
But at least I can take comfort in knowing that I'm in good company. During the weekend, I tagged along with two of my brothers-in-law to Phalen Park. Some of their friends were meeting up at the park to put out a lure at a Pokéstop (yes, I know how nerdy all this is, and not making fun of it is killing me!), so we figured we'd join them and see what we could catch. To our surprise, we didn't even need to use a lure – someone else had already beaten us to it, and it was doing a way better job of attracting other humans than it was rare Pokémon.
Over the next 30 minutes (and in-between fits of restarting the app due to Pokéball freezes – seriously, Niantic, fix your bugs!), I watched in amazement as people from all ages sauntered up to catch Pokémon. It was like Woodstock for nerds: People were giving each other knowing nods and smiles and chatting about the game. At one point a guy walked by and yelled, "Everybody is playing Pokémon, gotta catch 'em all!" like he was witnessing the end of the world. A female jogger who was running with her phone yelled back, "You're missing out!"
What happens whenever someone puts a lure on a Pokéstop.
And she's not wrong. Pokémon has spurred impromptu gatherings literally across the world, along with more news stories than you can count (For a time, CNN had a dedicated feed for its plethora of Pokemon Go stories, which really says more about the state of CNN than anything else). People who have only had a peripheral understanding of Pokémon are now getting in on the action; if you're not out there sharing stories and tips and stupid pictures on Twitter, you really are kind of missing out.
Of course there are those who have found other ways to partake in the festivities. As with other games, Pokémon Go's popularity has brought out the haters, who see it as yet another opportunity to prove they're too cool for school. It's certainly not hard to come up with reasons to rag on the game (like I said, I was ready to do it myself!), but many of the arguments I've seen floating around are lamer than a Weedle. "You're still playing Pokémon? Grow up!" They say, on the same meme-laden video game forums perused by the people they're complaining about (who are coincidentally now outside exploring the real world). "It's not a true Pokémon game; the mechanics are too shallow!" They say, about a series that has always been criticized for the simplicity of its rock, paper, whatever-the-hell-a-jigglypuff-is combat.
Regardless of the complaints (and there are some real ones to be made – seriously, Niantic, fix...everything!), the fact is that no game – in the history of video games – has caused people to come out of their homes and congregate around spots in town (around the world!) to partake in their shared enjoyment of a game like Pokémon Go has, including Niantic's own Ingress. Forget the Farmvilles, Candy Crushes, and Clash of Clanses – Pokémon Go has actually delivered on the "social" half of social gaming. And that's pretty darn cool.
So get out there** and start collecting. Visit some parks, take over some gyms with friends (or strangers!), and chat with your fellow trainers – even if they are Team Instinkt. If you feel like an idiot for chasing around cartoon animals with your cell phone in public, don't worry. You're definitely not alone.
*Actually, a monkey whose ass is on fire is pretty cool. Way cooler
**JUST DON'T PLAY WHILE YOU'RE DRIVING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!
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