Pokemon Go

Ingress is an AR/real-world game released years ago. It was Android-only for the longest time and I only had one friend that was way into…

Ingress is an AR/real-world game released years ago. It was Android-only for the longest time and I only had one friend that was way into it but his explanations sounded baffling. It eventually got released for iOS, and I briefly tried it. Imagine a post-apocalyptic gamified Foursquare, where you collect objects to provide footing to “win” neighborhoods and posts you continue to defend against attack. I’m sure I got a bunch of that summary wrong, because I gave up after an hour. I chalk it up to a combo of it feeling too much like work to play, and the dystopian overlay felt forced and not at all fun.

Last night I took a cab from the airport and played Pokemon Go the entire trip and loved every second of it. Every stoplight I collected things and captured animals inside the backseat that would randomly appear.

It reminded me that Nintendo is really great at taking an established idea, finding the fun in it, and making it accessible to anyone. The same thing happened with the xbox. Microsoft made a good video game platform with complex games that felt cold and playing them felt like work to me, then the Wii came out and it was upbeat, had completely natural controller elements, and was fun for anyone. The Wii blew sales records despite gamer sites initially decrying the low performance of the console graphics card.

Let’s Go

Look, I’m old. I missed out on Pokemon on gameboys or whatever launched it in the early 90s because I had just stopped being a kid at that point. I’d been mostly oblivious to anything pokemon-related to date. But I’d heard enough about this game in the first day to give it a try and in five minutes it was so fun I was hooked.

You can’t play it standing still. You have to venture out to play. For a society that’s been cocooning ourselves for decades, it’s (literally and figuratively) a breath of fresh air. For a game that is only days old, there are already loads of stories of people using it to get out in the world and connect with others in a kind of incredible paying-it-forward kind of way. This image of a park overrun with people has the tendency to sweep those not playing up into it due to curiosity, kind of like Improv Everywhere’s MP3 experiments of yore.

Think about it: some software just got people to stand up from their couches and talk to neighbors and strangers alike while exploring their world, all in the name of fun and positivity. What’s not to like?


Strangely, the release of Pokemon Go coincides with a time of great intensity and anxiety. We’re living in a state of the most awful acts of police brutality happening daily in America, and vital protests that follow, and yet, here’s this incredibly fun game, causing Twitter feeds to alternate between terrifying news imagery and smiling people catching imaginary characters. It’s a bit unnerving to be in those two mindspaces simultaneously, and I hope this doesn’t sidetrack or derail work on centuries-old issues of racism in the US that need to be addressed with real solutions. I hope none of this gaming feels reactionary. As stupid as it sounds, I hope pokemon bringing people out of their homes and together in public spaces is a trend that can help rather than hinder larger issues of an apathetic citizenry.

Seriously, it’s fun

The game is already crushing under its own weight and I hope they can stabilize it so it’s not just a flash in the pan that results in more error messages than smiles for eager players. I’m traveling internationally with two phones (due to data costs) and the experience is starkly different between devices: my android phone (with a live connection) can rarely log in successfully, has trouble obtaining data once inside, and the battery drains like water, while my iPhone (airplane mode, piggybacked on the other’s connection) works much more reliably until it occasionally crashes while capturing animals.

The game is only a few days old, but I can tell it fulfills many promises of the last decade of work on augmented reality and social gaming and it is not only now and in the moment a huge hit, but points to more likely being a long-term Really Big Deal for many aspects of tech and gaming (and hopefully more generally, society).

I can’t wait to show it to my 11 year old daughter, who recently found an interest in riding bikes after dinner each night. I have a feeling I’m going to spend the rest of the Summer evenings exploring my town with her, and have a blast doing it.

15 Minutes in the Morning is a thing I just made up that I’ll likely try to do most weekday mornings before I start work, as a way to kick my brain into motion with whatever’s on my mind. As always, I don’t know where I’m going with any of this.