Pokémon GO: two words that have littered news, social media and actual human mouth feeds for weeks now. The game has spawned a colossal mess of coverage (including this very article, yes) that looks to demonize, elevate and celebrate it to varying degrees. I played it for two weeks before uninstalling it, and it was cause for some reflection.
We all know that Pokémon GO will result in the collapse of capitalism, or, on a more personal level, death, or at least being maimed and / or robbed of your possessions, and yet many people continue to play it anyway. Why?
I was wise enough to uninstall it after a two weeks, but it wasn’t a fear of untimely death or the prospect of a post-apocalyptic wasteland that provoked this decision.
Pokémon GO, I choose you!
In the beginning, Pokémon GO attracted me. I was a shameless Pokémon Blue addict and was thrilled to transfer all my Pokémon onto my N64 and battle them in the 3D Pokémon Stadium.
The gratification I derived from growing my collection of creatures was undeniable; Pokémon’s formula was a narcotic for anyone with a collector's urge and an easily stoked sense of pride. I had always dreamed of a proper 3D Pokémon game, so one based in actual reality was still alluring, even years after I’d stopped playing the games.
I downloaded the app and started walking around the sickly green-blue world of Pokémon GO the first day it was available. And make no mistake, when I played Pokémon GO, I wasn’t walking around the actual world, i.e. Earth, I was walking around the sickly green-blue parallel world of Pokémon GO. Practically the only time I looked up from my phone was to react in fight-or-flight panic to the fearsome clatter and call of a cyclist almost breaking my legs.
The most I saw of my surroundings was through the augmented reality mode that I used when a Pokémon appeared nearby. The game did little but sever me from reality; I could have been walking along a park pathway, through the dappled, late-afternoon light of July, or the wasted ruins of a post-Pokémon GO society; it all looks the same flattened onto the sprawling psychedelic anemia of Pokémon GO’s map.
There are many Pokéballs of hatred I could hurl at Pokémon GO. Over the past few weeks, it has been blamed for everything that ails humanity, from degenerative brain disorders to the socioeconomic pitfalls of capitalism, but my problem with the game is much more simple.
The game is rubbish
Although I find Pokémon GO to be an extension of everything that is wrong with smartphones, that isn’t even the reason I chose to uninstall the game. I chose to uninstall it because it simply isn’t very good. Admittedly, this is the first game of its type, and it’s a promising start. But that isn’t a reason to play it. In the original Pokémon games, you would get a starter Pokémon, and it would grow stronger alongside you; it would be a valuable companion throughout your journey. In Pokémon GO, your early Pokémon quickly become useless. The game has degraded the bond you form with your Pokémon, turning them into symbolic objects that are largely deprived of meaning, easily discarded and forgotten. This is the antithesis of what Pokémon should be about.
Moreover, limply hurling Pokéballs at spectral Pokémon sucks; it's no different to that Messenger basketball game. In the original series of games, you have to combat the Pokémon you encounter and then attempt to catch them, once they have become thoroughly exhausted. While this is cruel, it’s also more fun. In Pokémon GO, I can’t fight with my Pokémon at all. They’re controlled by a computer, and the Pokémon battles are never between me and another human player.
All of this adds up to a boring game. Maybe Niantic will add or improve all of these things, and I’m just impatient. But then why did Niantic release a game so woefully featureless to begin with? I think the problem is fundamental: Pokémon GO misunderstands Pokémon and the collectors' ambition; it offers up a meek attempt to translate the franchise, serving up little more than an impressive fad that will fade like so many Pokéballs tossed into a digital oblivion.
After having uninstalled Pokémon GO, there have been no pangs of regret, no sense of loss. Not once I have opened my app drawer to commit a subconscious search for the non-existent app. It’s gone, and I’m glad for that.
What are your current thoughts on Pokémon GO? Let us know in the comments.