Pokémon phenomenon – what’s it all about?

It’s the worldwide gaming phenomenon that has now gripped the nation – but what is Pokémon Go and why are there thousands on the streets glued to their smart phones, playing it. As an enthusiast himself, CIAN O’CONNELL explains all.

If you take a half-hour walk through the NUIG campus at 1am these days, you are likely to encounter at least a dozen people, holding their phones in both hands; walking purposefully or standing next to a statue or monument that is otherwise of no relevance to them.

Pokémon Go, for those only looking to understand it (if you want to ‘be the very best’ there is far more in-depth and impressive research available online than in this article), is a simple concept – the aim is to catch every Pokémon available to you.

The Pokémon themselves are small animated characters that look like monsters or cute toys, depending on your point of view.

You should know that we’ve had Pokémon since 1996 – it’s only in the last month that they’ve been allowed into the real world.

It’s the second highest-selling video game franchise of all time, behind Mario which first released in 1981.

Pokémon has seen huge success in video games, card games, merchandise and television.

It’s got a worldwide fan base that grew up watching Ash and Misty and Bulbasaur and Pikachu, and guess what? Most of us are now about twenty and we all have smartphones.

So when you think about it, it shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise that people are willing to walk a few kilometres in the middle of the day – or the dead of night – to snare a Snorlax or a Flareon.

It’s not that surprising to people that play video games at least. I mean a lot of us have been doing it anyway – all that’s changed is the actual walking part. Why is it so different to be playing on your phone in a park late at night than it is to play on an Xbox in your room?

The fact that no official Pokémon phone apps have previously been available to download means there’s an immediate market for Pokémon Go.

If you don’t understand video games and the market for them, then none of this obsession will make sense to you – but you should know that it’s existed for a long time.

What’s new about this game is that it’s not on a console, though it is far more similar to a console game than any app before it.

Like the most popular console games of the last several years, Pokémon Go’s real attraction is its online community – there isn’t as much fun in evolving your Charmander if no one else cares.

The difference with this game is that the online community is no longer behind a screen. Instead of simulating a gunfight with people you don’t know, you’re outside looking at them and battling against them for control of gyms, or hunting alongside them for wild Pokémon.

Again, if you have no experience with video games, this might all sound ridiculous – but it’s been going on for a long time.

Games like this are highly addictive, and when you combine that with nostalgia you’ve got a powerful demographic that doesn’t need much encouragement.

The fact that the game places almost no emphasis on violence means you can add the post-Pokémon, iPhone from age five generations to that group.

Then of course with anything that blows up like Pokémon Go has, you get tons of people that start playing just to see what everyone’s talking about, and then before you know it we’re back to how addictive these games are.

It would be unfair to say Pokémon Go hasn’t changed anything within the video game industry. No app has really had a meaningful impact on video games up until this point, and like I said the concept of an online community having to participate in real life public spaces is a new one that is likely to be built on going forward.

I don’t think it’s incredibly important that you understand how or why so many people are playing Pokémon Go. It’s not something you should be afraid of – it even encourages a healthy lifestyle.

And while seeing people walk around glued to their phones may make us seem depressingly reliant on technology, it’s really only a good thing that we’re being encouraged to walk around doing it.

And if you still just don’t feel like you understand at all, it is free to download.