July 15, 2016

Pokémon Go

        I wouldn’t be keeping up with current events if I didn’t mention the latest craze, which is, after all, fantasy.  So here’s the gist of the fantasy universe of Pokémon: The world is inhabited by a myriad of “pocket monsters” which can be captured in special little balls.  Then they can be trained to battle with each other.  (Don’t worry.  It’s non-lethal.)  Apparently in the entire universe there are 722 species and counting, although I’m not sure how many are available in Pokemon Go.  Many kinds of Pokemon can “evolve” into another species, making another way for collectors to get new varieties.  As a fantasy concept, this is pretty good stuff.  After all, what fantasy lover could be immune to the idea that there are myriad strange magical creatures all around, and that they can be caught and trained as pets?
        The previous iterations of Pokemon video and trading card games, and their spin-off cartoons and books never impressed me.  In fact, back when P was maybe 7 or 8 and had a mild interest in the cards, he checked a Pokemon story book out of the library.  I read it and was absolutely appalled by how awful it was - negligible plot, poorly written, minimally edited or proof-read, without any logic to the story progression…  I was frankly astonished that a major corporation would be willing to put its name on such a shoddy piece of junk.  It betrayed a profound lack of respect for their customers and, what's more, a lack of respect for their own product.  So I’ve rather scorned Pokemon.  And yet here I am, carrying my cell phone with me on my evening walks so I can “catch ‘em all.”  What’s the difference?

      Well, the first difference is that P and T were introduced to Pokemon Go at camp, where apparently their campmates (a truly international bunch) were literally counting down the minutes until the game’s release.  P especially has been quite swept up, and urged D and me to start the game so that we could join him on the Blue Team.  So, out of equal parts duty and curiosity, we did.  The second difference is that this “augmented reality” game uses the real world as its background.  If you want to get to a particular spot in the game, you actually have to go there in real life.  Pokéstops, where you can pick up Pokéballs and other supplies, are set on actual points of interest in the neighborhood.  And if you walk to get there, your steps are counted and help you hatch eggs.  (Theoretically, at least.  My phone doesn’t seem to count my steps at the same rate as D’s and when we go on our evening walk together, I get credit for maybe two thirds the distance he does, which is really frustrating!)  The Pokemon show up on the map of your neighborhood and appear on your familiar landmarks - or even in your house, superimposed over your desk or on your lap, which is pretty amusing.  The positive side of this is that it gets people away from their computers and walking around, perhaps noticing their local points of interest for the first time, sometimes even socializing as they share sheepish smiles with the other people who are also obviously trying to capture the local Pokemon.  (And we’ve seen an encouraging diversity of groups out playing, from quite little kids with their families, to groups of young teens, to other middle-aged couples.)  The negative side is that it gives people one more reason to interpose a screen between themselves and the real world, so that they can stupidly run into lampposts (on foot or in cars) and ignore the real world and the real creatures around them.
        I honestly can’t say I have any interest in Pokemon battles, but it has been amusing to try to collect all the species I happen to see.  (I have 41, as of now.  P has 72.)  I think it’s a wholly new and interesting twist to superimpose a fantasy world over the real world so that the mythical creatures appear to show up in my real environment.  So no matter how I may sneer at the Pokémon franchise as a whole, I have to give them credit for doing something genuinely new and interesting with this game.  Now we’ll see how long the interest lasts.

[Pictures: Me with an eevee, photo by PGN, 2016;
A venonat on my work table, photo by AEGN, 2016.]

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