What Is It About Pokémon GO?

I know I know, another Pokémon GO article. Believe you me, I was the last person I was expecting to be writing this piece. If you didn’t see it, a few days ago I wrote a feature regarding my rather lengthy hang-ups with Pokémon GO. While I stand by what I wrote, I can’t help but still feel tranced by it.

The other day a few friends and I were going to catch up and play some boardgames (nothing else I swear), but a couple of them rocked up earlier to go Pokémon hunting. It sounds stupid typing it just now, but I know many of you reading this have done the exact same thing. The three of us planned out a walking route, striking an efficient pace through the convenient Pokéstops — as my friend was unfortunately out of Pokeballs from an outing the night before –, and we were off.

Not one minute into the walk we made a startling realisation. It was pouring rain. But our freezing bodies did not dissuade us, our resolve to ‘catch them all’ kept us strong as we trooped along our set path. We shared our Pokémon GO anecdotes, discussed the game, and talked generally about a host of other topics. It wasn’t until after we reached our second stop, engulfed by the coastline winds and struggling to effectively regulate our body temperature, my mate exclaimed: “I never go for a walk, let alone a walk in the rain, what the fuck is this game?”. We laughed, but it’s a question I’ve been, and I’m sure many of you have been tackling with for days now.


Then we were at Noodle Box, just chatting about Pokémon, sounding ridiculous to onlookers but not caring. It was at this point that a person a few metres from us chimed in and contributed to our discussion. Now I’m not blind, I know that hundreds of people have been walking around cities together to catch Pokémon, and I most certainly know that hordes of P-platers have been stocking up down the road from mine trying to capture that Gym (I’m valor and surrounded by Mystic owned gyms, send help!). But this was the first time I had been directly exposed to how widespread it has become.

Pokémon GO is not a good game; its bugs and ill-conceived mechanics make it mediocre at absolute best. But why has it gripped us so strongly? Could it simply be that it tugs at our childhood nostalgia? Or that the dopamine trigger from collectibles is too strong for us to resist? Or is it because as a society we need to justify — even if it feels like a shallow excuse — the time we spend together. We need to be going to breakfast, having a gaming session, seeing a movie, or getting some beers to catch up. All these events turn out the same; the activity we banded together for finishes, but we remain hanging out because that’s what we’re really there for.

For me personally, it’s a combination of everything. I love collectibles in most cases, I like Pokémon, and I love spending time with friends. Though, I almost never go hunting by myself; it just isn’t as fulfilling as the shared experience. On one hand, it’s a bit depressing that we as people are desperately in search for something as simple as a subpar real-world collect-athon to see each other more. But on the other, if we do really need that incentive — which may unfortunately just be human nature –, I’m glad Pokémon GO exists.


I suppose what I’m most excited for is, where do games go from here? We’ve all been hearing about the Pokémon revolution, and the franchise’s revitalisation, but what about future iterations on the game-type. Imagine a game with better mechanics, stronger servers, specific tasks, and goals purposefully designed for you and your friends to complete together, along with other individual objectives to achieve by yourself. If such a simplistic and broken game like Pokémon GO can pull us in, what hope do we have resisting an experience which has learnt from its release?

I’m somewhat intrigued to see how Pokémon trading (to be released in a forthcoming update) will shuffle up our interactions also. Will it become a form of tradeable currency that friends and I levy against one-another in other games or real world situations? Who knows, maybe the game will die out just as fast as it sprung up, and we’ll never get a chance to see; only time will tell. One thing’s for sure, every time I start Pokémon GO by myself, all I can see are the flaws. But when I’m in the presence of friends, it’s a vehicle for laughs, stories, and treasured conversations.

Twitter @Touchidavos

David is an editor here at OK Games. He loves video games, particularly strong narratives, and cooperative experiences. There aren't many games he doesn't touch, except for MOBA's. Never MOBAS.