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Pokemon Go- not totally stupid

I’m not a Pokemon person. My computer / console gaming history started in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, and completely missed Nintendo. And to be honest, none of the Nintendo games really appeal to me- they are just a bit too ‘twee

But that doesn’t stop my curiosity. So I installed Pokemon Go on my iPhone. I may regret this…

Pokemon background

  • the original Pokemon game was the brainchild of game designer Satoshi Tajiri
  • the legend has it that the idea for Pokemon grew out of Satoshi’s childhood past-time of finding, catching, and identifying/categorizing insects
  • The first game, Pokemon Red, was released on the Nintendo in 1996
  • Pokemon stands for ‘pocket monsters’.  A person who catches Pokemon is called a ‘Trainer’
  • there are hundreds of species of Pokemon in the game lore

Pokemon Go background

  • Pokemon Go was not developed by Nintendo, but by Niantic under license to Nintendo
  • Niantic was formed as an internal startup at Google; their focus is on mobile apps that use geospatial data
  • Pokemon Go is functionally almost identical to their previous game, Ingress.  The basic ideas of seeking out objectives on a ‘virtualized’ version of Google Maps with real world points of interest along with augmented reality game actions is the same
  • Both games initially used the same points of interest; apparently this included some less savoury locations like strip clubs
  • You have to walk/move around in the real world to find and collect the things the game offers e.g.: Pokemon and associated Pokemon hunting gadgetry
  • Pokemon Go is free to download and play.  However, you do have to pay money to get basic supplies like Pokeballs or lures if you don’t want to spend hours grinding to get them

My observations

I don’t expect to get too seriously involved with the whole ‘hunting Pokemon’ thing. So instead of trying to assemble a complete view into the game itself, I’m going to journal a few days of my experiences as a complete Pokemon neophyte.

Day 1- No, that looks like work

  • Pokemon Go is finally available on the iOS app store in Canada. Apparently Canada is less important than about 20 other countries as far as Pokemon hunting goes; today I shall install it
  • Okay, so its installed… and I launch it, and see the launch screen and… it gets stuck there
  • I’ve exited, relaunched and this time get further: now I can log in either with my Google account or create a new account with Nintendo; I log in with my Google account
  • logging in with your Google account only gives Pokemon Go access to your email and your name.  That’s an improvement over ‘everything’, which is what it was on release
  • Finally, the game seems to have launched!  Now I get to create an emo-looking spikey haired avatar, either male or female… I think.  It is kind of hard to tell.  Not exactly a lot of choices, but enough to make a slightly distinct avatar I guess
  • and I can name the avatar.  And it seems every name in the world I can think of has been used.  It takes about ten tries, but I finally get a name the game likes
  • That’s done, and now… ack, some emo-looking guy named Professor Somestupidname wants me to hunt Pokemon.  Great, gimme some poke balls and get out of my way
  • Awesome!  My first three Pokemons (pokemeeses?) appear right next to me!
  • … but I can only pick one of them to capture and then the other two disappear 🙁
  • Catching a Pokemon appears to involve a) touching the Pokemon when you are near to target it (?)- this activates the “augmented reality” stuff i.e.: you see the view through your phone’s camera with a Pokemon standing there…
    • then ‘flicking’ (whatever that means) the Pokeball at it using touch gestures on your phone
  • It took me a couple of tries to get the gimme Pokemon that appeared right next to me at the start of the game, but I did it.  Hurray?
  • And then Professor Buggerit goes away, which is fine by me, and the game itself starts
  • there’s a cool “kinda like google maps drawn in crayon” map of my neighbourhood, with a few icons for things I think are probably important
  • there are a couple of Pokemons nearby… ?  But according to the little indicator (footprints), they are the maximum possible distance for ‘nearby’
    • and there is no indicator of which direction they are, so you have to wander around randomly until the number of footprints goes down…
  • … so the nearest thing on my map is about.. half a bloody kilometre away?  Enough of this for today, I say…

Day 2- Kind of broken, but I’ve got (Poke)balls!

  • Pokemon Go freezes on launch, but seems to work after restarting
  • there are no pocket monsters closer than three ‘footprints’ away
    • … no directions, just this vague concept of ‘3 footprints’ being ‘just barely in range’, 2 footprints being ‘slightly closer’, 1 footprint being ‘very close’, and then I guess zero footprints when you should be able to shake hands with the critter
  • so off I go for a walk… I decide to go to a PokeStop, which is a spinning icon thingy at a nearby park
  • all PokeStops are ‘points of interest’ in the real world- this one is apparently a tree with a sign
  • walking uphill is tiring… I’m terribly out of shape.  This is sad…
  • So there’s the PokeStop.  Oops, for some reason now all I see is a blank circle when I click on the PokeStop, whereas before it had a description
    • apparently Pokemon Go is experiencing some Pokey-network or Pokey-server problems….
  • I spin the PokeStop spinner circle anyway… it says ‘come back later’ instead of dispensing the promised prizes
    • come back later?  I thought I could get free stuff from this PokeStop every ten minutes.  I’ve been lied to by Nintendo!
  • … and apparently every Pokemon is still three footprints away, even though I’ve walked half a kilometre
  • I wander around in circles and come back to the PokeStop… after a few tries and a couple of restarts, able to get the PokeStop to dispense is sweet, sweet reward
    • … of five Pokeballs?!  That’s it?  Well, that wasn’t terribly exciting
  • I head back home via a different route, hoping some Pokemon might get closer…
    • … with neither a direction nor any indication of distance, it is basically impossible to find a monster to poke
  • later in the same day, I am waiting for my wife while out in another part of town.  I get out my phone and discover three PokeStops close enough to where I’m standing to collect prizes…
    • … and I get more balls.  Hurray?  All the Pokemon are still three footsteps away, so none caught
  • this whole ‘monster hunting’ thing is pretty unproductive so far, so maybe I’ll wait to try again until some of the bugs are fixed…

Day 3- Skipped some days, still broken- caught a Pokemon!

  • I had decided on day to wait until some of the bugs are fixed before trying to ‘hunt’ Pokemon
  • several days pass: I occasionally check to see if the ‘3 step bug’ has been fixed.  Nope
  • but one day, I bring out my phone while on a rest stop during a motorcycle ride.  On a whim, I launch Pokemon Go…
  • there are two Pokemon standing right next to me!  I touch one of their icons on the map, and the view changes to one through my phone’s camera.  The Pokemon in question is ‘projected’ onto that live camera view
    • this is the vaunted ‘augmented reality’.  Okay… kinda interesting, but not exactly ‘amazing’
  • I throw a couple of Pokeballs at the thing, and manage to catch it
    • it seems pretty easy…?  The Pokemon doesn’t attack me, there is no ‘combat’, and it more or less just sits there, waving its pincers (it is a crab-like thing) at me
    • since this is the first time I’ve captured this particular Pokemon, I get bonus points for ‘discovering’ it
  • after catching the first Pokemon, the view reverts from ‘augmented reality’ back to the map; the second Pokemon is still there
  • touch… AR activated… ‘battle’ Pokemon, capture it in the Pokeball.. hurray?
  • Well, it is slightly fun, but no sense of actually tracking the Pokemon down due to the three step bug
    • instead, it all feels sort of random

Day 4- Skipped more days, hunted Pokemon with Irene

  • I continue to periodically check my Pokemon Go to see if the tracking bug is fixed.  It has been two weeks now, and the three step bug remains- it is just one of many bugs that don’t seem to be getting fixed
  • this day, however, I’m out with my wife Irene visiting her horse, Spirit.  Spirit is out grazing, so out comes my phone while Irene and I sit and keep an eye on her
  • I open Pokemon Go, and Irene starts asking questions.  I show her the UI, and decide to put down a lure to attract ‘local’ Pokemon.
    • lures come in two types; ‘incense’ that attracts monsters only you can see (don’t laugh), and lures that you can install in Pokestops that attract monsters for ‘everyone’ nearby
  • Irene watches as I ‘catch’ one Pokemon that shows up nearby.  She asks to walk around with my phone to see if she can find one.
  • a few minutes later, Irene starts calling excitedly- she found a Pokemon!
  • I go and help her catch it… and the game is on
  • the lure lasts 30 minutes, which is about how long we want Spirit to graze: we catch several Pokemon
  • we also ‘discover’ a real-life deer nearby
    • unfortunately, the Pokeballs don’t seem to catch it
  • we continue to play with the game; Irene drove on the way home, and I caught a couple of ‘drivebys’ from the passenger seat
    • if you are fast as you drive by, you can ‘click’ on a monster on the map and it will appear in AR mode inside your car.  It is a bit weird, but it works…
  • I discover that some of the ‘stronger’ Pokemon are harder to catch
    • but I’m not sure it takes any greater skill- they just seem to be able to randomly avoid the Pokeball, or escape and require that you re-catch them
  • at some point I collected an egg.  Apparently I have to walk 5 kilometres with the egg in an incubator to hatch it
    • and unfortunately driving around with the egg doesn’t count.  The damn game ignores any travel at over about 10 km/h

Conclusion

Pokemon Go is stupid.  But that is true of most (all?) games, including sports like football, baseball, or golf.  And that’s the thing: Pokemon Go is an active video game- you actually have to get out in the real world and walk around to play it.

To me, that ‘you must move around in the real world to play’ aspect is what really sets Pokemon Go apart.  The game is broken and kind of lame, the AR (augmented reality) is pretty meh, but the fact that players move around and visit real-world locations to make progress is what makes Pokemon Go somewhat different.

Are people playing this silly game and being stupid about it?  Absolutely.  Walking off a cliff playing a game is stupid.  Crashing into a tree playing a game is stupid.  And so is trying to catch Pokemon while your wife is in labour, at a funeral, or while you tour a war memorial.  But people are the really stupid factor in all of these situations, not the game itself.

It is no more stupid than any pastime we humans amuse ourselves with.  And it is better than some.  If you enjoy your Pokemon Go, good for you!  Go on Pokemon Go walking trips, talk about your strategies, compete with each other- that’s all goodness.  Just be aware of the world around you, don’t play where it would be insulting/distracting for other people, and be considerate.

I’m off to check my egg incubator…

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