Drew Tries Stuff: Pokémon Go

                Of course this is a blog about Pokémon Go. Really, after the past two weeks, is it any shocker that I’m going to tackle the subject that lit the internet on fire and has dominated my own social media feeds? Seeing as right now there are only two kinds of people who don’t have Pokémon Go (those whose country it hasn’t been released in and liars) I won’t go too much into the overall basics. By this point, I think even those who haven’t played know how it works. Walk around, find Pokémon, catch them, battle, etc. But within that simple set-up, there’s a surprising amount of depth and unexpected consequences. These are my impressions after a week and change of playing Pokémon Go.

1. Deep Ellum is a fucking Doduo farm. Listen, there’s a lot of gameplay and neat stuff to talk about, and I’ll get there, I swear. But holy shit, I can’t not put this at the top of the list. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I live in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, a place with a lot of history and cool shit. Also, Doduos. More Doduos than you can count, or expect, or ever need. I can’t throw a rock down here without hitting three Doduos. I drop powered-up and evolved Dodrio at every gym I pass, and they still make up a huge chunk of my roster. It’s not a complaint, per se, since I can farm the things for resources non-stop, just something really weird that I’d noticed. And I talked to other friends in Dallas/Fort Worth, this is definitely something specific to my chunk of town. So yeah, if you need Doduo, come to Deep Ellum and catch your fill.

2. Pokémon Go is among the best exploration tools ever. If you told me Pokémon Go was developed by a conspiracy with the people leading the charge against obesity, I wouldn’t doubt it for a second. Outside of my usual runs, I’m very much a homebody. I take my dog out and walk around Deep Ellum for food and booze, but otherwise I tend to stay where it’s nice and air-conditioned. Not since Pokémon Go came out, though. I’ve been averaging 3 miles a day, just to hatch eggs and hunt new Pokémon around my area.

Last night after dinner, instead of watching a movie and drinking, my friends and I went around the neighborhood, hitting pokéstops and hunting rare catches. I’ve seen parts of my own area that I never laid eyes on before, and probably never would have, if not for this app. And it’s far from just me. One look at the internet shows how many people are out and about just to play this game. Whether it will last or not is another question, novelty does wear off obviously, but it’s a heck of a nice side-effect while it lasts.

3. There is an unexpected sense of community. Last week, I was heading out to get some food after finishing errands, but the restaurant wasn’t open for another ten minutes. Checking my phone (while safely stopped in a parking lot) I saw a nearby pokéstop at a Mexican restaurant that was closed. So I drove over, parked safely, and then proceeded to gather loot and catch a Bellsprout. As I finished, I looked up and saw another car a few steps over, the dude hunkered down and staring at his phone. Other than us, the place was deserted, and it didn’t take a big guess to figure out what he was doing. He looked over, we nodded, and then I drove off to get lunch.

Strange as you feel walking around with your phone pulled out, running down sidewalks because something rare was nearby, it’s oddly heart-warming when you see others doing the same. Tons of people have been walking Deep Ellum, and it’s really neat when we spot each other and stop to chat about where the good finds are. This is one that, again, may diminish as the novelty wears thin if people drop off, though hopefully it will stick around to some extent. Much of that, I think, depends on whether Niantic can pull it together or not. Why do I say that? Well…

4. Pokémon Go is a prime example of a bad launch. I’ve been pretty sweet on Pokémon Go so far, and not without good reason, but let’s not pretend for a minute it wasn’t a shitshow the moment it hit the app store. The game is flat-out unreliable, and that’s a huge issue when one of the primary tenants of it is encouraging people to go explore new places. More than a few folks made pilgrimages out to more exotic areas only to arrive and find the game unplayable. Between constantly crashing servers that led to hours of downtime every day, and a game that was, at its best, so glitch-filled and buggy that it very clearly wasn’t ready for release, there’s no shortage of people who have gotten rightfully frustrated at the game.

If this were almost any other property, it would be a tire fire instead of #1 in the app store. Pokémon taps deep into our nostalgia, and Pokémon Go offers a version of something we’ve all wanted since we were children and the loading screen for Red or Blue first flashed in front of our faces: the ability to catch Pokémon in the real world. That nostalgia is propelling us forward, allowing us to take in stride things that would have gotten other games uninstalled after the third crash. But sooner or later, that goodwill is going to be burned up, and if Niantic Labs hasn’t put forth a stable game worth playing by then, that’s when I predict we’ll see a sharp decline in users. I don’t want it to happen, mind you. I’d love to see this keep growing. So would everyone else. And that’s because…

5. We’re playing Pokémon Go for what it could be, rather than what it is. As fun as finding and catching new Pokémon can be, it’s only a small part of what made the games really enjoyable. Battling was a huge part of it too, and for those who haven’t taken on a gym yet that aspect has been collapsed into nothing but a wild tap-fest. At least you can fight gyms, though. Tough shit if you want to test your might against a friend, there’s no non-gym battle system. Nor can you trade with a friend at all. No meeting up with a buddy who is from a different city or state, exchanging spare Pokémon rather than spending cash to go across the country. Yes, Niantic has stated they plan to add trading, however that’s not there yet.

Now look, I don’t want or need Pokémon Go to be exactly like Pokémon. These are different games from the outset, I understand and respect that. However, as it stands now, Pokémon Go is a pretty bare bones game in its own right. I know a lot of it was copied wholesale from Niantic’s other large property, Ingress, and to be honest I deleted Ingress years back because I got bored with it. I really don’t want that to happen with Pokémon Go, on my end or with the community at large. We’re all putting in a lot of time and effort, pinning our hopes on Niantic to continue developing for it and creating content worth experiencing. The sort that will get people using those micro transactions and making it fiscally solvent for Niantic as well as enjoyable for every player.

And for the love of Ash, maybe give me a way to open a restaurant so I have something to do with all these fucking Doduo.