Pokémon GO: Getting lost and talking to strangers
September 1, 2016
It was 96 degrees on a cloudy summer afternoon—one of those days that makes you worry your shoes will melt on the pavement, gluing you in place. That’s Atlanta for you. Hundreds of people huddled safely in the shade of three oak trees in Piedmont Park. Some were lying down, others were standing in large groups, one even reclined in a hammock. Every last one of them was staring into a bright phone screen playing Pokémon GO.
For those who haven’t yet heard of Pokémon GO, take a look outside. On any day of the week, no matter where you go, you’re sure to see at least one person playing the mobile game. Pokémon GO, made by Niantic Labs partnered with Nintendo and The Pokémon Co., took the United States by storm with its new spin on the classic game. On July 6, the new game introduced Pokémon to mobile devices with augmented reality capabilities and the ability to exercise while hunting for the digital creatures, both of which are firsts for the franchise.
“It is going to change the way that smartphones are used in the world of gaming,” teacher Mario Herrera said. For many, these changes are quite welcome. According to iPhone maker Apple Inc. and Android maker Samsung Co., more than 7.5 million people have downloaded the application in the U.S. alone, giving them the perfect motivation to get up and go outside.
Walking is essential to Pokémon GO’s game play; some may even argue that this is one of the game’s features. As a reward for exercise, the game gives players medals of achievement and lets them hunt for nearby Pokémon. The more medals and Pokémon a player gets, the faster they can level up their character.
At level five, the player has the option to join one of three teams: Team Mystic, Team Valor, or Team Instinct. Once on a team, the player is able to pit their Pokémon against other players on the opposing teams in Pokémon Gyms. Henry Haverstick, a 13-year-old Pokémon GO enthusiast, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Capturing and battling gyms is my favorite feature,” Haverstick said. “[Battling them] gives you Pokécoins that let you get items in the game.”
These items include Pokéballs that allow you to capture Pokémon, as well as Incense and Lure Modules that draw Pokémon to the player. If battling gyms seems like too much of a hassle, the game also offers Pokécoins in exchange for money. Most of the items, however, are available through Pokéstops, real life locations that exist, in the game, solely to provide these items. The Pokéstop and Pokémon Gym features encourage players to visit interesting, real-life attractions, where they may meet interesting, real-life people and even make friends.
“It’s gotten a lot of people, who weren’t even playing Pokémon before, playing it, which is great,” Haverstick said. “People will travel with each other because they’re all trying to get a special Pokémon or are going to events, and that definitely brings people together. It’s just something to do with other people.”
Local organizations are cashing in on the game. Edgewood Shopping District’s Target recently painted its signature red orbs to look like Pokéballs, and Atlantic Station even set up a Pokémon GO Scavenger Hunt on Aug. 27. Hundreds of people of all ages went to the event and hunted for Pokémon GO-themed posters in participating stores. The first prize winners of the scavenger hunt went home with $100 gift cards for either Regal Cinemas, Journeys or Kinnucan’s. This was great for the businesses; Atlantic Station gave people a day of fun competition and provided businesses a day of free advertising. Participants moved in and out of various shops around the square, browsing the wares and searching for Pokémon.
The game doesn’t always run as smoothly as some might hope, however. Upon its launch, millions of players reported issues with the app crashing as soon as it was opened or simply not allowing them to log on at all. Niantic Labs hasn’t yet fixed all the glitches, though some have been resolved.
“It is a little flimsy at times because of the glitches, but it definitely feels good when you’ve caught [a Pokémon],” Haverstick said. “It just freezes sometimes, which is a little frustrating.”
Other players are unhappy with the way Niantic Labs has tried to fix the problems. Some users think the company is ignoring its clients, leaving many frustrated.
“I don’t like the updates as much,” Herrera said. “There doesn’t seem to be any variety, and I miss knowing how far I have to walk [to find a Pokémon].”
A huge complaint from Pokémon GO players is the removal of the Pokémon tracking system. Originally, an option in the game used footprint-shaped graphics to let players know how far away a Pokémon was, but the feature was flawed. Instead of fixing the issue, Niantic Labs removed the tracking system entirely. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic Labs, recently said on Twitter that the company was hard at work creating a replacement for the broken system. In the meantime, users are left in the dark.
These issues haven’t stopped people from playing, however. Ben Farthing, a local Pokémon GO player, said he looks forward to future game updates and hopes Niantic Labs continues to work on the game’s many issues.
“From what [Niantic Labs] says they’re trying to accomplish, they’re getting better, but it’s still not there yet,” Farthing said. “[Pokémon GO] also seems dependent on being where a lot of people are, and if they could pull the game away from that somewhat, where you could go on an adventure on your own, that would be cool, too.”
It is true that Pokémon GO unites people, but some would prefer to play the game alone. Whether they are shy or feel awkward walking around constantly glancing back and forth from their phone screens to their surroundings, some players would rather not be approached while playing the game.
“It is a little uncomfortable in public,” Haverstick said. “Especially if you’re using the augmented reality. It is a very cool feature, but it’s not very usable because it’s awkward and can make other people uncomfortable, too.” The game’s optional augmented reality feature activates the smartphone’s camera while the application is open, which some find unnerving.
Perhaps, soon, Niantic Labs will begin listening to gamers’ wishes. The game has its flaws, but in a recent interview with “Game Informer,” a gaming magazine, Hanke promised biweekly version updates. If done right, these updates will address players’ complaints and implement features to keep the game fresh for years to come. Niantic Labs has promised that future updates will add many more Pokémon and allow players to trade them with friends. In the meantime, people will continue searching for Pokémon in the blistering heat. Soon, the weather will cool off and perhaps lure even more reluctant players out to catch em’ all. Pokémon GO needs a lot of work, but it’s definitely here to stay.