I grew up a Pokemon fan. I played the Blue, Yellow, Gold, Crystal, and Sapphire versions of the Gameboy games, and religiously watched the anime (I cried when Ash let Butterfree go) and the movies. I even collected the cards and toys. So when I found out about Pokemon Go and its official release, you can imagine my reaction. But after a week, I uninstalled the app.
Yes, it was a fun week. It was fun reminiscing my childhood, since the Pokemon featured in the game were from the first generation, my favorite. The app is a dream come true for aspiring Pokemon masters: you get to see them for real in augmented reality. But for me, the fun stops there.
Unlike the Gameboy games, Pokemon Go doesn’t have a goal. It doesn’t follow a linear narrative where you have to catch all Pokemon and beat gym leaders (in order). To accomplish a task, you have to do prerequisite tasks. And to be a Pokemon master, you have to train your Pokemon to be strong enough to beat the Elite Four. In Go, you just walk aimlessly around until you catch dozens of Pidgeys.
The way users treat Pokemon is also different between the Gameboy and in Go. In the Gameboy, you catch one version of the Pokemon which you lovingly train. You train it by walking on fields and using it to battle other trainers. To evolve my Magikarp, I used it as my starter Pokemon then quickly switched it to a stronger one so the poor fish can share the XP. There is a relationship you shared with each Pokemon. You were happy when your Charmander became a Charmeleon at level 16. You cheered when your Metapod became a Butterfree. You cried when your Rattata fainted. You had one Pidgeot, but it’s a special Pidgeot because you trained it from a level five Pidgey you caught at Pallet Town.
In Go, you literally catch as many Pokemon as you can. To evolve one, you must catch as many of them to collect candies. A Gyarados can be obtained by having 400 Magikarp candies, which means you need at least 100 of this fish to get the imperial dragon. In the app, the Pokemon aren’t special. They are a number, a means to an end. And really, what’s the point of evolving a Pokemon when you can just catch its evolution in the wild?
Because of this, Pokemon Go has devolved into a numbers game. There really is no point training your Staryu (or catching many of them) when there’s a Starmie around. There are also gyms in the app, but it’s a fleeting achievement as you can be quickly overthrown. And there are people who suck the fun out of the game by using cheats to make their Pokemon stronger.
Pokemon Go players will never feel the joy of catching a wild Abra, the frustration of seeing a Zubat in a cave, and the panic when most of your Pokemon have fainted in a match against a gym leader (my trick is to save the game before I engage and switch off the Gameboy when I’m about to lose). They will never feel the smugness of beating Gary or the elation of owning a cable so you can trade with your friend.
Pokemon Go has accomplishments, too. It has encouraged people to walk at a time when living a sedentary lifestyle is prevalent. It developed a sense of community. I’ve seen Pokestops where strangers traded war stories. It also brought attention to historical spots and great architecture in cities. Most importantly, it has introduced Pikachu and his friends to a younger generation.
Sadly, it wasn’t enough to sustain interest. The trend seems to have died down on my social media timelines. In fact, there’s only one Facebook friend left playing the game (or at least posting about it on social media). There are statistics that prove this: just last month, it was reported that the app has lost 15 million active users, or a third of its players at its peak. Its engagement has also dropped to half.
It’s easy to say that people today get bored fast and must need new stimulation all the time. To some extent, that’s true. But when you give a person a goal, something to work for, something to look forward to, then you’ve got their attention. Just take a look at Pokemon fans from the ’90s. We still know the lyrics to the TV show’s theme song. We can rattle off the names of the Pokemon in the first few generations (some can do it by number). Even if years have passed, we still remember. Because there’s a goal: to become the very best like no one ever was. And until we’ve achieved this, we won’t forget.
Did you play Pokemon Go? Share your thoughts about the game!
Follow @When in Manila Koji for more stories like this!