Just this weekend, Pokémon Go was launched in Singapore and many of our surrounding ASEAN nations.
Facebook feeds have been flooded with Pokéfans' postings of their initial catches as well as amused (and disgruntled) bystanders' photos of Pokémon hunters gathering in seemingly odd locations in large groups.
Though I grew up during the Pokémon era, I never warmed towards it. I never watched the cartoons, played the games or bothered with it. All I was familiar with (due to inescapable intensive marketing) was perhaps the most famous of all Pokémon - Pikachu. Even then, I found its limited vocabulary rather more annoying than adorable.
I could have easily dismissed this new game as an attempt at reviving a dying franchise, or simply the game's developers trying to make money out of nothing from undiscerning fans. Its explosive popularity was also something that bothered me. I have found that I tend to stay away from over-popular products, perhaps in aid of my aversion towards noisy queues and rabid enthusiasts.
However, I decided to just give it a go (no pun intended). After all, someone once said that to understand a man, you have to walk a mile in his shoes.
I wanted to know what the craze was all about and why people can't seem to put their phones down. A little psychological analysis was in order and since I couldn't interview fans (nor would they bother giving me any time, as they'll be busy catching their digital creatures), I figured that I would simply play the game and analyse my responses to it.
At first glance, the game seemed straightforward enough:
1) Pick up Pokéballs from Pokéstops, which are often landmarks or places of interest.
2) Search for wild Pokémon.
3) Throw Pokéballs at Pokémon to try and capture it.
There are, of course, many more aspects to the game, but this is the most important one. Without capturing wild Pokémon, a trainer (that's the player) could not advance in level or ever gain enough powerful allies to do battle in gyms (also usually places of interest or important buildings). He/she would also be unable to get enough resources to upgrade or 'evolve' their Pokémon.
Having interacted with a number of Pokémon Go players, I noticed a few types:
1) Collect 'em all types
These hunters just want to complete their collection. They aren't particularly interested in taking over gyms of competing. It's more of a personal achievement for them. Many players fall under this category.
2) The PvP types
These are the ones who love to compare with other players, always desire to upgrade their Pokémon or capture better ones. They constantly aspire to take over gyms and enjoy the player vs. player (PvP) aspects of the game.
3) Casual types
These players are just playing for kicks. They aren't particularly into the game or want to go hunting for hours. They whip out the game as and when they feel like it and just want to have a little fun. The social aspect of the game is more important to them than the actual game itself.
Within each type, there are some sub-categories, of course, and these are gamer types that exist in almost any game.
While I was out hunting, though I was often in public transport going from place to place over the weekend for non-Pokémon-Go-related activities, I found avid fans of the game almost everywhere. They were, as reported in news articles, staring down at their phones, occasionally stopping in their tracks and sometimes squealing names of Pokémon they found. It was rather amusing to witness.
At Pokéstops with lures, I saw crowds of people milling around, engaged in their phones. My only concern at these places was that many of them just stood in the middle of the walkway or blocked the route with their bicycles/scooters. This was rather inconsiderate. At least step aside so other people can pass.
Naturally, the media seized upon this opportunity to highlight these negative behaviours, along with those of people walking along the streets, sometimes late at night, oblivious to their surroundings, some not even bothering to watch for vehicles properly, others trespassing on private property.
I did witness behaviour like this, though not the trespassing. I might even have been guilty of a couple of counts of obstruction myself.
But I also saw the positive side of the game. It got people to go outdoors, friends (even strangers sometimes) to meet up and talk to each other in real life (instead of just over the phone and social media), families to go on walks and spend time together, hunters helping each other to spot the more elusive creatures.
It wasn't as bad as the media painted it to be. Sure, it looked terrible from a bystander's point of view. I even heard real-life comments from non-players along the lines of 'This is crazy! Look at all these <insert adjective here> people!' and 'I can't believe this is happening to our society.'
I would have been one of those bystanders and possibly made comments like that, but I decided to learn more about it as an insider instead of an outsider. In my next post, I'll break down the mental processes that I went through while I played the game and why I think the game is so immensely successful.
Until my next post, Happy Hunting!