As the summer winds down, there are few things that dominated headlines and hearts as much as Pokémon Go. When it was first announced back in January/Febuary, fans of the game and show were excited. Funny posts were made about breaking into the Vatican to capture Arceus, or having to fight the President to get a Gym Badge. And even with the decidedly rough start, it was warmly received by the fans.
And, incidentally, the rest of the world.
The number of people who have downloaded the game is staggering. Some estimates say that up to 10% of US adults play the game. That’s as many US adults there are US Adults who are left-handed. That’s over 2x the population that identifies as LGBT. In short, that’s a lot of people. And that’s just the US. No one could have predicted the explosive popularity of this game– not Niantic, not Nintendo, not even the Pokémon Company themselves. So now that we’re past the initial shock of the release, and the following cascade of novelty news stories of people playing while driving or getting trapped in caves, we get the think pieces as to why. Why is this game so popular? Why did it get so many downloads?
As a 90’s-00’s kid, it seems obvious– it’s Pokémon. It’s up there with Harry Potter as pure nostalgia fuel. But it’s not just my generation that’s hooked. Parents, grandparents, kids, and everyone in between seems to be playing. Businesses are already capitalizing on it, Boomers are already complaining about it, people are making friends over it. How is it getting to so many people?
Turns out the answer is in the game itself. Not Pokémon Go, but an earlier game, Pokémon X and Y. As many Pokémon fans caught on, there are, in X and Y, several representations of how players play the game.
5. Shauna– the Social Aspect
Shauna is one of your main rivals and an NPC (non-player character) in Pokémon X and Y. Throughout the game, she is always the most excited about making memories with the group of friends that you have in the game. This is often overlooked because it’s a video game, but these games do have a social aspect to them. Even before Pokémon Go, people made friends because of these games and because of the show. I know I did.
4. Tierno– the Pokémon Aspect
Tierno’s approach is actually focused on the Pokémon themselves. He interacts with them beyond what is normally seen in the games, forming a dance troupe with his Pokémon. This aspect is often overlooked, but really comes out when new Pokémon games are being announced and the wave of new Pokémon are revealed. These creatures really are fascinating, from the mysteriousness of the various Legendary Pokémon, to the top percentage of Rattata. From the designs to the movesets, there is so much about the Pokémon to love about Pokémon.
3. Trevor– the Collecting Aspect
The tagline of the Pokémon franchise is “Gotta Catch Em All!” and people take that very seriously, none more so than Trevor. As a rival, his might be the most difficult challenges, as he foregoes the traditional Pokémon battle for a PokéDex battle, comparing the number of Pokémon you’ve seen and caught over your journey to his own. With over 700 Pokémon and counting, this task is getting harder and harder to achieve, and is more of a focus in the card game than in the video game (at least in my experience). But that doesn’t stop people from trying.
2. Calem– the Gym Aspect
Calem was the main rival in my play-throughs, and he is the standard rival that is seen in most of the games that have been released so far. He takes the Pokémon that is strong against your type, battles you throughout the game, and collects Gym Badges before facing the Elite Four. By defeating the region’s Champion, you become the Champion– the strongest trainer in the region. Oh, he also helps you save the world from an actual Pokémon Hitler, though everyone chips in. Calem wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. Unfortunately, he is not the Player Character.
1. Serena– the Player Aspect
At the beginning of each game, you chose either the male character or the female character to play as. I chose the female character. As the PC (player character), she becomes a blank slate that you project your personality onto. Her motivation– your motivation– is whatever you want it to be. Whatever I want it to be.
So why do I play?
Well, Pokémon is an RPG. I play for the story. I want to know what the region’s Team is up to, I want to know how the local Legendaries play in, I want to know how to stop them. In my first Pokémon game, I stopped a group of environmental terrorists from baking the earth into submission. The PC for that game is no more than 14. Yes, I also want to be the very best, I enjoy battling the gyms and the Elite Four and the Champion. I like training, I like catching. I even like the Pokémon Contests from the Hoenn games. But there’s nothing quite like playing through a Pokémon game for the first time, meeting everyone in the region, taking on the Team Boss.
So yeah, Pokémon Go‘s popularity is pretty obvious to me, because I’ve known each and every one of these people. Pokémon Go even has some of the same aspects– sure you can fight and join gyms, collect badges, take names, but you can also simply walk around and just experience it all. Pokémon is a game that reaches such a variety of players, is it any wonder why a version of it available to the general public took off so quickly? Because not everyone has a DS. And these aren’t even all of the reasons people play. From Pokémon Tournaments to stress relievers to reliving childhood, there are so many reasons to play. Recently, Crash Course’s series on Games did an episode on the psychology of games, listing various reasons why people play games and a few games that fit those profiles. Pokémon often finds itself at the intersection of all four of them. I think this is what made Pokémon Go so popular– even more than the brand recognition.
Oh, gotta go– there’s a Ryhorn nearby and it’s not getting away this time!