If you’ve noticed a peculiar vibrance among students at Caffe Strada, Martinez Commons and even other landmark sites over the course of the last few days, then maybe this article will help explain the oddities occurring in Berkeley. These oddities are due to a downloadable app for the mobile phone that released July 6 called Pokemon Go. Glued to their phones and encouraged to travel for the sake of progress and advancement in the latest Pokemon franchise installment, trainers, primarily college students, are collaborating and exploring with one another in an effort to catch rare and powerful Pokemon.
For those unfamiliar with the latest Pokemon installment and the Pokemon series in general, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game for the mobile phone featuring a user as a customizable avatar walking around the city and encountering Japanese animations of fictional creatures known as Pokemon. These Pokemon can typically be caught, traded and used to fight other Pokemon in intense Pokemon battles which many fans of the series would quickly point to as the flagship feature for the previous games. Unlike previous iterations of Pokemon however, Pokemon Go fosters interactions between players in the real world by relying on their movement to catch the different species of Pokemon available. From having certain types of Pokemon more prone to appearing in specific environments (like water-type Pokemon near beaches and lakes) to the utilization of pokestops — landmark areas such as the Campanile that give free items when walking by them, the game clearly emphasizes real-world activity and movement as a key feature.
The idea of physical movement and exercise as a central vehicle in navigating the game’s interface is perhaps secondary to the real-world collaboration required to maximize the Pokemon experience. After reaching level five, players can pick a team (Blue, Red or Yellow). These teams vie for control of locations known as “gyms” around the city by internally coordinating with other players on a team to use their strongest Pokemon in order to capture and retain control over a gym. There’s also the collaborative experience of “farming” for Pokemon that transcends the boundaries of team denominations. In addition to walking/running to catch Pokemon, anyone can place a lure at a Pokestop which attracts nearby Pokemon, and thus players, to it. Caffe Strada, Martinez Commons and the Campanile have been popular places for dozens of players to meet and relax as they catch Pokemon that remind them of their childhoods. Although newer generations of Pokemon games have been released in the last few years featuring increasingly varied elemental types of Pokemon and new facets of the game in addition to battling, they haven’t taken off quite like Pokemon Go on college campuses yet. Much of Go’s success can be attributed to the fact that anyone who has a phone can play it. Previous iterations of Pokemon needed handheld gaming devices. As future generations were released, newer gaming devices were required such as the Nintendo DS and so forth, requiring a certain financial commitment not all college students find worthwhile to have to the series.
But in addition to the ease of downloading the game and the nostalgia of the Pokemon brand many Cal students had the luxury of growing up with, there are several factors as to why Pokemon Go has graced our campus with a zealous wave of enthused young adults who want to be the very best.
One such factor is the ease of the game. To play previous Pokemon games at a competitive level, players were expected to be very familiar with particular elemental types along with their strengths/weaknesses, move sets and different stat combinations for each Pokemon. A lot of that information is abstracted in Pokemon Go even though it still retains the competitive allure of besting other trainers with the presence of gyms. Instead, there’s a single “Combat Power” level that represents a Pokemon’s aptitude in combat.
Since the ease of Pokemon Go bridges the gap between experienced older players and newer players with the commonalities of walking and moving from point A to point B along with collaboration, it’s easy for many players to feel a sense of accomplishment. The older players can reclaim the feelings of success they had when they caught rare Pokemon in previous games while the newer players are enticed by the possibility of starting a new, glorious adventure with friends and classmates.
This feeling of adventure for all players of different backgrounds however is perhaps the most unique feature of Pokemon Go that sets it apart from the other Pokemon games. For those who grew up watching the show and movies, many can attest to the dreams of embarking on a journey inspired by youthful wanderlust and the idea of forging enduring friendships along the way. Playing the previous games however, there was a dissonance with this idea and the environment in which Pokemon was played in. With the pixelated graphics on a screen that spanned just a few inches wide, Pokemon wasn’t a fully immersive environment. The same went for the Pokemon playing cards. But now with the concept of being outside and befriending fellow, the game experience runs parallel to the adventure witnessed on the show, albeit more realistically.
In the more “traditional” Pokemon games, the perception of rewards was quantified. Players would strive to achieve rewards that could often be hierarchically ranked into a tier system. This is because Pokemon were typically classified by their rarity and competence in battle. Thus, for many, Pokemon became increasingly monotonous as more and more species were released and it became a truly overbearing task to catch ‘em all. But the fellow gamers at play in Pokemon Go allow can make for a more worthwhile experience for many. While there’s still a great dearth of the rarest Pokemon waiting to be found in Pokemon Go, the sense of community, exploration and belonging are all factors of why trainers of all levels can pick up this game and continue to play. With the stresses of school and life, it becomes increasingly more difficult for adults and teenagers to feel like kids again, but Pokemon Go does a fantastic job of renewing that childhood vigor through a franchise that has engraved its lasting impact on our hearts for many years.
Anuraag Nalluri is a junior at UC Berkeley studying computer science.