I’m about to drop a lukewarm take, but bear with me: Pokemon GO isn’t a very good game.
Heresy, I know, but it’s really rather true. The game’s been out for a good amount of time now, and at this point, its problems are legion: endless crashes, a hilariously disorienting and nonsensical battle system, a maddening tendency to freeze right when you capture a Pokémon in a pokeball, a complete refusal to explain almost any of its mechanics or strategies, glitches that include enemies not actually losing their health points in battles and a completely ravenous appetite for battery life and internet data. The game is often broken for almost two-thirds of the day — one friendly player recommended that I should avoid playing from 12 a.m. to 7 p.m., as that was when the servers were most likely to crash — and even if it’s eventually patched enough to become functional, it still will be a rather shallow Pokémon game.
But if we’re being honest, who cares?
As a game, Pokemon GO is mediocre on its best days — the ones where it actually works — but as a social experience that’s currently being shared with millions of people, it’s really something special.
By any measure, the game seems to be a true phenomenon. It’s been predicted to overtake Twitter in number of users by Tuesday. It was installed on 5 percent of Android phones within the first two days. In other words, there is an absurd amount of people playing this game. And you’re able to see that no matter where you go.
The clear highlight of Pokémon GO is the manner in which you catch the Pokémon. Namely, that you walk all over your neighborhood and pretty much anywhere else to find the various monsters. The rub is that so will everyone else in your neighborhood, so you’ll have large groups wandering the streets looking for their own Pokemon to catch, as well as challenging each other to gym battles at various landmarks.
It really can’t be stressed enough how special this makes the game. The idea of goals and missions being put in the real world isn’t new. Niantic, the company that made the game with Nintendo, has an earlier game called Ingress that has almost exactly the same structure, but never has it been used by so many people so consistently. It’s truly surreal to walk out to your neighborhood and see dozens on dozens of people roaming the sidewalks talking and trading and being social at any time of day. Even more remarkable has been the instantaneous forming of three passionate, dedicated teams in the game that battle and bicker in real life. The level of social interaction and communication in person rather than the internet that has come from this app is an actual innovation, a mixing of modern technology and human interaction that hasn’t been done like this before.
So even though the game doesn’t always work, and isn’t spectacular when it does, it has easily become one of the most unique experiences in 2016 already. It’ll be very interesting to see where things go from here. After the servers get fixed.
Harry Sayer is a Contributing Columnist for the Central Florida Future.