Pokemon GO has taken the gaming world by storm, despite the fact that it’s a pretty simplistic mobile game. While a lot of gamers have praised Pokemon GO for fulfilling the desire to be able to capture, train, and fight real-life Pokemon, I think there’s something else that Pokemon GO has done that deserves praise. Pokemon GO is revealing that gamers really are everywhere in the real world, and is bringing them together through a shared experience.
Even though more and more games are including online multiplayer experiences these days, with some even going so far as abandoning single-player campaigns entirely, gaming is arguably a very solitary experience at times. While it’s easier than ever to connect to the internet and join a game with anywhere from dozens to thousands of other people all over the world playing simultaneously, the vast majority of gamers are still sitting in front of their consoles or computers, physically alone.
Of course, statistically speaking, gamers aren’t really alone. More people are gaming than ever before, with studies revealing that half of the United States population is playing video games in one form or another. Even so, there’s still a sense that if you’re offline and not among friends, professing that you’re a diehard gamer can garner some awkward reactions. Even if you’ve shared a server with a thousand people in World of Warcraft or battled alongside dozens of teams in Overwatch, it doesn’t guarantee that you can strike up a conversation about your favorite game with a stranger the same way you potentially could about a local sports team.
On top of that, a lot of gamers still feel that there’s a stigma attached to being a gamer, at least as far as public opinion goes. The news media often claims that outbreaks of real-world violence are due to gamers playing violent video games. Others often view video games as a waste of time and money, or something childish that should be given up after a certain age. However, while some have expressed bewilderment at Pokemon GO‘s suddenly popularity, the game seems to be primarily breaking through these barriers.
I suppose that since Pokemon has already experienced a couple decades of fame, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Pokemon GO is doing well. But it goes beyond just doing well; Pokemon X & Y were a big success, but it’s not as though the games came out and dozens of people in every city of the U.S. were suddenly glued to their 3DS handhelds. Pokemon GO, on the other hand, is a phenomenon, and anyone who has a smartphone can see for themselves that their neighborhood is thrilled by it. The world map reveals Pokemon Gyms that are being readily fought over by the three teams, or PokeStops drawing in players with active lures. Since gyms can’t be taken over and PokeStops can’t be used without players physically being close enough to access them, for the first time, it’s clear in a measurable way that the increasing number of gamers in the world isn’t just a statistic. Gamers are everywhere, in practically every city across the country.
The impact of Pokemon GO can be felt even without looking at a phone’s screen. The first day I downloaded Pokemon GO, I set out to a local shopping plaza with plans to try and filling out my Pokedex a bit. But as soon as I visited the closest PokeStop, I realized there were at least a dozen people all staring at their phones standing around in the general PokeStop area. I didn’t think much of it at first – after all, people are glued to their phones these days more than ever. But as I stood there minding my own business looking for Pokemon, I realized that these folks were starting to talk to each other.
Complete strangers would strike up conversations, asking if the other person was playing Pokemon. They’d excitedly give an affirmative reply, and suddenly a full-fledged conversation would start about what Pokemon they’d found, what level they were, and what team they were on. Regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, these folks were happily talking with people they’d never met before because they all loved Pokemon.
People have been able to play games on their phone for years now, but Pokemon GO is taking players out into the world and bringing them together. Even though gamers can’t directly interact with one another in Pokemon GO just yet, it has provided a launching pad for players to make new friends and personally discover that people who love gaming are all around them.
Pokemon GO has a long way to go as a game, with the promise of Pokemon GO trading, 1×1 battles, and the chance to catch legendaries like Mewtwo yet to be fulfilled. It remains to be seen if Nintendo and Niantic can satisfy expectations once these features are added. Whatever happens, in my book, they’ve already achieved something awesome by bringing gamers together in the real world and reminding us that we’re far from alone.
Pokemon GO is out now in select areas for Android and iOS devices.