Embarrassment Go

Last week, after months of patiently waiting out of sight, Pokémon landed onto everyone’s smartphone with a load server failing noise. It has been on my own mind for months when I realised the potential fun to be had from roaming around the city looking for Pokémon. I downloaded the game to my phone the moment it was available (not in the store but on the internet as a separate download) and got stuck in. The reality is that it is fun but lacks a bit of depth, and some of the features that it needs to actually be more than just a Pokémon light game are missing. They’ll come, I assume, but for now it’s fun walking about, catching Pokémon, and figuring out the best ways to level them up.

Just this morning I managed to “capture” a gym from someone, and now have a few powerful Pokémon that I should stop off and level up there, to protect it. That is only possible because I live rurally, and for some reason churches seem to be good places to find gyms and pokestops, where I can grab items. The key feature though is walking – as mentioned on here before I picked up a Fitbit to entice me to walk more and it worked for a good chunk of time, before I fell out with the device a bit because of battery issues. Now I have a new one and the battery lasts days again, I’m back into the mode of getting on and getting steps. Yesterday I managed over 16k steps, the most in a normal work day for months, and almost at the my all-time best ever number, and I was out searching for Pokémon some of the time.

The strange thing is that it has reactivated memories I assumed long-forgotten. The Pokémon available in the game are the original 150/151 and that was something I learned as a 11 year old kid. I remember their names, the evolution routes, and their weaknesses, all despite not really having played the game endlessly until much later on. I remember there being a pull out chart in Gamesmaster of all 150 of them, and I strived to remember not just their looks and attacks, but their numbers and sounds. That was all lost and forgotten until the game opened it back up.

And I’m not alone – another in my office was a fan as a kid and now twenty years later is enjoying recapturing that wonder of finding the monsters when they are out and about. It links to my grinding game love – I loved nothing more than watching my RollerCoaster Tycoon parks or Sim City cities ticking along, waiting for funds to expand, and this translates to walking distances to get to every increasing levels of rare Pokémon. I know it’s childish, and I know it is easy to scoff at it, but I remind you – this means I am out exercising and has very little to set it apart from my Fitbit in reality. It’s just another form of gamification of real-world activities.

I have noticed though that I am still embarrassed to talk about it. Gaming is, as someone who grew up in it’s infancy as the foremost popular culture, still tinged with a stigma that I find hard to forget and discard. It’s amusing to me to see older and younger people not sure what I am talking about, but at the same their discomfort transposes onto me, and I feel silly for enjoying it so much. Like my enjoyment of maps, ambient electronica, and trains, my fascinations are not popular culture, and they make up an important part of my personality, but I still feel like I have to pretend to not like them. Pokémon is a strange straddling of the zeitgeist, the nostalgia, the computer game fandom and the fascination that I enjoy so much that I struggle to reconcile it.

In the end the fad that is Pokémon Go might pass. It will certainly pass if they don’t add more depth to the overarching gameplay, but for now just stoating about in my local area, catching Clefairy and Haunters, and walking to hatch eggs is enough, and it gets me my steps and totally drains my phone’s battery. I guess if I enjoy it, that is all that matters right? That and capturing gyms.