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The nation is under a spell that it hasn’t encountered since the year 2000. Like Halley’s Comet, a force of pure wonder and majesty once again has the population enthralled. And it’s all thanks to Nintendo and a game developer called Niantic.
Pokémon Go is a mobile app that Niantic released to the public in early July 2016. It uses your phone’s global positioning system and a limited version of augmented reality to create a game where players catch the eponymous Pokémon.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the game is about catching and training special creatures called Pokémon, a portmanteau of the words “pocket” and “monster”. In the world of Pokémon, the creatures can be found everywhere, and sometimes people will catch and train them to battle each other. Each Pokémon has a specific type, or even multiple types–such as fire, water, or grass. Some are strong against others, and vice versa.
When two Pokémon battle, the game becomes a more complex version of rock-paper-scissor. The main goal of the Pokémon games has been to catch as many of these creatures as possible, train them and battle them against “gym leaders.” Battling enough gym leaders (usually eight) allows access to the prestigious Pokémon League. It is every trainer’s goal to beat the Pokémon League, thereby becoming the Pokémon champion.
Pokémon as a franchise was founded in 1998 in Tokyo. Before this, Pokémon properties were co-owned by Nintendo, Creatures Inc, and GAME FREAK. It was created by Satoshi Tajiri, who came up with the idea as early as 1990. The first Pokémon product came out in Japan in 1996, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, which were the first two games of the Pokémon franchise, and later saw release in the United States in 1998. The popularity of the games were followed up with a trading card game and television show.
Though barely a week-old as of this writing, Pokémon GO seems to have taken the world by storm. The game is the first Pokémon title to be released on phones, and in retrospect it seems to have been a match made in heaven. Niantic Inc, the company that made the game, designed it using the data and geo-locations developed in their previous title, Ingress.
John Hanke, the lead developer for Pokémon Go, has faith that the growing success of the franchise resides in the sheer amount of things our modern phones can do. In an article from Storypick, Hanke explains that the success of Pokémon GO was a process that took many years, and was inspired by the the geo data phones collect.
Millennials are taking to the game like ducks to a pond, and it’s almost impossible to walk along a street in Manhattan without passing a Pokémon trainer looking for their next big catch. Gaming is traditionally thought of as a sedentary habit, but this game blows those preconceived notions out of the water. The New York Times reports that Pokémon Go, being a game that requires the players to physically walk around, is getting people out of their houses, moving, and even meeting other people.
On a personal level, playing the game in New York City has had me running into and talking to people I would never share conversations with otherwise. Since the game marks special areas on the map where extra Pokémon spawn, it attracts more players who are more likely to run into each other. And perhaps that is the biggest reason why Pokémon Go is so loved. Never before have I seen fans of a gaming franchise so excited and eager for adventure. Pokémon Go is a success that feeds off of nostalgia, and allows Pokémon fans to interact with each other in a way we never have before.