They are called “Pokémon Zombies”.
Yes, those hundreds of people you see in your neighborhood park in the middle of the night with a bluish glow on their faces are all part of a latest worldwide trend generated by an AR (Augmented Reality) game.
Unless you have lived under a rock for the past 3 months, you have probably seen someone played this game, or you yourself have tried this simple and repetitive ball-throwing game, the latest iteration of a two-decade old game-cartoon franchise known as Pokémon.
Much has been said about the danger of playing this immersive game. Reports on the news of traffic accidents and crimes as a result of gamers playing this game in the real world, disregarding their personal safety for the sake of the game.
Of course, there are two sides to every story. We’ve also heard about the benefits of the game, in bringing people together. Parents and children finding a common topic, spending time doing something together. It is also successful in getting young gamers out of the house and finally doing some exercise for a change.
But why is Pokémon Go so successful, you ask?
Is it because the game is a GPS-based game with Augmented Reality, blurring the game’s content with reality, which gets gamers hooked?
But Pokémon Go is not the first game to use these technologies, it’s not even the first game from Niantic to do so. Pokémon Go shares many ideas and systems from a previous Niantic game called Ingress, and that game, although ground-breaking in its own right, doesn't even come close to the success of Pokémon Go.
So, perhaps it’s because the age group which grew up with Pokémon are now the most influential age-group on the internet?
But again, we’ve seen such a diversify fan base for this game, from pre-teens to kidults up to grand-parents. Many fans have barely heard about the game-cartoon franchise and know nothing about its characters.
So what's so special about it?
I believe it is the social element of the game. Most games are played alone, even multi-player games are played online or at online cafés. Gone are the days of Video Arcades where gamers get to show off their gaming skills or simply hang out with their friends dissecting elements of a game or complain about their personal troubles.
Yet, Pokémon Go is unique, in this generation of personal gaming. It forces players to go outside and interact with fellow gamers. The background story of the game gets true Pokémon fans excited, but the simplicity of the gameplay welcomes casual gamers of different age group. The uncertainty of a successful catch and random appearance of monsters creates difficulty for anyone to play the game alone.
The non-competitive aspect of the game is also crucial. Since any monsters spawned at a location remains there even after a player has captured it, the game is not about fighting amongst fellow gamers, instead a fight against time, as each monster spawn has a limited time of appearance. This makes the social element of the game as interesting as the actual gaming.
Helping a stranger find that Pikachu around the corner, or following a mob of trainers across the park in "pursuit" of that Snorlax - all reinforces that sense of cooperation and companionship. Sharing information about the location of a rare monster, complaining about missing a catch is what makes it fun.
(Photo Credits: Brian Miller)