Life is full of fluctuations – moments and phases within time where our strongest memories reside. These may be amazing or terrible in nature, however their presence in our memories often come alongside triggers. These triggers are often small peripheral details which can bring back a lost moment in a flash, such as a song, or a photograph; a place or even a game.
When I think back on Pokémon GO in the years to come, my recent break-up will be at the forefront of my memory. I’ll be transported back to the moment my life was blown off it’s hinges and flung into a whirlwind of pain and uncertainty. But despite the painful circumstances, Pokémon GO couldn’t have been released at a more fortunate time. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to weigh down readers with my relationship troubles though. It’s a toast. To the people in my life who were there; with their superior smart phones, to raid Poké-stops of all their Poké-balls, to catch absolutely every Drowsy in Eastbourne, and most of all to distract me through a medium close to my heart: gaming.
What is a Poké-walk?
A Poké-walk is the popularisation of strolling within an urban area. No more achingly beautiful scenic walks if you’re serious about ‘catching them all’. Pokémon GO uses the GPS on your phone, marking certain points of interest (such as the Eastbourne Pier – long may it stand) as Poké-stops. As a general rule, the more major the settlement, the more concentrated the Poké-stops will be. These are essential for gathering your Poké-gear: Pokéballs, potions, revives, eggs etc. Also servers monitor the amount of Pokémon hunters (you guys) in the area, and consequently more Pokémon spawn there. This forces people to leave their houses – to get out of their housing estates and descend on the towns, eyes firmly fixed on their phone screens, their concentration palpable. For about 2 weeks it was a rarity to see someone using their phone in public for it’s actual primary function.
Or a Poké-drive…
Instead of engaging in deep, painful conversations to rationalise my breakup, I was invited on countless Poké-walks by my friends and family. My phone isn’t advanced enough to support the app, so I was designated driver. Which, by 2am requires some very tactical maneuvering in an attempt to hatch everyone’s eggs. Your collected eggs from Poké-stops can be incubated and will hatch after you’ve walked a set distance (2km, 5km or 10km). Of course walking 10km is a little excessive just to hatch another bloody Eevee, so it’s probably best you drive it. The problem is: the GPS tracks your walking speed, so above a certain speed threshold the app assumes you’re no longer walking and the distances cease to count toward those eggs.
This can only really be achieved when any normal, respectable person is asleep. And at the risk of looking like a yobo, a slow cruise in 1st gear should start clocking up the kilometers. Tom and I took a 3 hour drive along the coast that first night. Him, eyes glued to his phone, frantically flicking Pokéballs at Rattatta’s along the road; and me, driving at 8mph, taking detours and stops at key locations and pulling over to let actual traffic through every so often. It didn’t fix my pain, but it provided an escape. A gaming escape, importantly one without solitude.
When I said ‘countless’ Poké-walks I wasn’t exaggerating. Almost every evening contained a Pokémon hunt. My good friends Becca and Tristan have an insatiable desire to become Pokémon masters. And it was with them and Tom that I discovered the grind. Whilst newcomers to the game are happily catching every other Caterpie, these guys knew the math. Focus purely on Pidgeys, pop a lucky egg (which gifts you 2x experience), then evolve as many as you possibly can using candy you’ve painstakingly accumulated. What’s the point of catching a Golduck at level 12 when you can grind up to level 20 and catch a more powerful one?!
It’s when the grind is realised that the casuals are separated from the true gamers. Every RPG enthusiast will know that the best loot always drops when you’re a higher level, and this is no less true for Pokémon GO. Those who have successfully accumulated enough common Pokémon and candies without getting bored will be rewarded with Pokémon attributed with high CPs (combat points). It’s these people that lord over the rest, their commitment of walking (or driving) and buying a travel charger. Their superior Pokémon sit gloating in gyms everywhere, and as time goes on the battle mechanic becomes an impossibility to all but the masters.
Why Pokémon GO cannot last
Pokémon GO has been the biggest phenomena in recent gaming history, if not all gaming history. It forced people out into the real world, and has done a lot of good, especially for myself.
However games like this need to be built to last. They need to have near endless content, variety and scope. Although future plans include the involvement of the legendary Pokémon and even the second generation of Pokémon the core mechanics and the simplicity of the game means it lacks depth. There aren’t a lot of features outside of catching the Pokémon themselves. Gyms are often guarded by overpowered Pokémon and the fighting gameplay is pretty boring. There is no interaction with your caught Pokémon, they just sit as trophies ready to be transferred like currency. It quickly becomes a repetitive process with very few new features being introduced as you level up.
What really makes Pokémon GO special
Pokémon GO is an ambitious project being gradually spread worldwide. What really makes it special for me is not how it encourages gamers outdoors but how it brings people together. Each evening as I walked I observed countless pairs and groups on their phones, talking to each other and to randomers (an unheard of concept in Britain). I didn’t need an excuse to get out and see my friends, but the shared interest brought back memories of school crazes – the obsessions of trivial hobbies which cement friendships.
I am eternally grateful to everyone who invited me to Poké-walk with them. You may know who you are, but you don’t realise how much it helped me to address the situation at hand. God that was mushy. That’s the last time I go emotional on a public post, errghhh…
As The Russian Badger would say: