I wasn’t going to play Pokémon Go. Seriously. I’ve never played Pokémon in my entire life. I still have zero desire to pick up any of the other games, because I am not interested in that kind of grind.
But then my friend Corina wanted to go for a long walk and catch all the local Poké Stops. Which are in the same location as Ingress portals, so I thought what the hell, I might as well get back into playing Ingress. I haven’t done that since getting back to Colorado. Oh and fine, I’ll download Pokémon Go while I’m at it and try, since I’ll be out there anyway. It’s probably dumb and I won’t like it.
And now I find myself out there, sitting on a picnic table in a park at midnight, farming Pokémon, and once a day reminding myself to log on to Ingress and keep my hacking streak going. What the hell happened? I don’t even go here.
Some of it’s no doubt because Pokémon Go is the shiny new thing. That’s an undeniable factor. But this game has become something more fun and social than Ingress ever was for me, remarkable because there’s a very strong Ingress community in Houston and I did regular social events when I was there. But my experience playing Ingress has been eyeballing people on their phones and wondering if they were playing, and if they were on the opposing team and about to start wrecking the shit I’d spent an hour linking and fielding up. Ingress players get damn aggressive sometimes, even to the point of following each other around. I’d go and take down an area in Ingress and be watching the chat for someone to start saying, “Who the fuck is Oyakodonburi?”
My Pokémon Go experience has been night and day. Yesterday, at the park, I heard a kid yelling, “Hey, is one of you Katsudonburi?” Yeah, me. (With a due sense of dread.) “You have a Snorlax? That’s so awesome! Where’d you get it?”
People come up to you if they think you’re playing to let you know that they just saw a Rapidash over in that corner of the park, you should go get it before it goes away. People thank each other for putting lures up on stops. And there’s always the inevitable question about which team you’re on, but the worst it ever gets is some good-natured ribbing about being on Team Mistake or Team InStink or Team Fouler. And then you all go back to squeeing about what just popped up around the lure.
Niantic has done some really smart things with this game, I think, that make it easy for people to like each other no matter what team they’re on because we’ve all got this fun game in common.
- There is no world-wide competition for control in which one team wins and one team loses. Your teams compete for individual gyms, sure, but there’s no overall contest to bring that kind of competitiveness into play. And with the gyms, you only really care about them long enough for you go sit on a few and then collect your coins once a day. Regaining control of a gym isn’t that arduous once you’re at a decent level, and the premium currency you get for control of an individual gym is nice, but not necessary. You can have a hell of a lot of fun with this game without ever having one of your Pokémon occupying a gym. So this keeps the competitiveness at a more personal, manageable level, and I think that means there’s a lot less rancor to go around, a lot less division between the teams.
- No one controls Poké Stops. While gyms belong to teams, anyone can use a Stop and get good things out of it. This is markedly different from Ingress, where you can hack portals your team doesn’t control, but the portal will damage you, and you often get less equipment (or sometimes nothing at all) out of it.
- Everyone can catch the same Pokémon as long as they’re in the same place, and lures benefit everyone. So there’s no artificial scarcity to make us feel like we should be keeping Pokémon spawns secret. And then it feels good to share, because we’re all excited about the same thing! You can be happy for someone when they get a great throw, and commiserate with them when that goddamn Abra pops out of their Pokéball and fucks off. Because we’ve all been there now.
- There is no global chat feature in game. People are much more likely to be nice and even kind to each other when speaking in person. I’m beyond glad that there is no option for anonymous trash talking in this game, and not just because there are a lot of kids who play. (See also, the lack of direct chat feature in Hearthstone has made that a much more pleasant experience.)
They’re finding a good balance here, of giving us just enough that people who like competitive things can feel competitive about gyms, but the main challenge is still always against yourself. You’re the one who has to try to catch all the Pokémon if you’re a completist. No one can really hinder you on that, but they can help you a little. I keep hearing that a trading feature will be online soon, which I think could also be good–I’m just really hoping they don’t restrict trading to only people on your team. So far, they’ve done such a good job with making the teams something fun, rather than restrictive and divisive.
I like the fact that I spent yesterday at the park, sitting at a picnic table with two guys from Team Fouler and they taught me how to throw curve balls. I like that a couple of random ten year old boys high-fived me because we’re all on Team Mistake. I like that a little old lady with gray hair stopped me in Roosevelt Park a couple days ago to let me know there was Pikachu hanging around by the flagpoles.
Dammit, Pokémon Go, you weren’t supposed to be this cool.
Tangentially related: I wrote a silly list of Books to Read at the Poké Stop