Video Games

POKEMON GO

* Not at all what the game looks like

* Not at all what the game looks like

Sometimes I feel completely disconnected from the modern world and all of its horrific accouterments. This can be awkward; earlier today someone told me that Taylor Swift was dating Loki, and I thought she was still with that mongoloid werewolf kid. The vast majority of times, though, I’m grateful to not be so plugged in.

Case in point: when I saw a guy wandering around the lake by my office building, phone in hand, swiveling this way and that and snarling, “Where is it? Where is it?” The guy was wearing transition lenses, too, which told me that whatever he was doing, it wasn’t cool.

He was playing Pokemon Go, of course. I realized this when a girl about my age came bursting outside, saw the guy, and exclaimed, “Where’s the Pikachu?!? Did you find him?”

Yes, it’s the game that brings everyone together by forcing them to walk around, stare at their phones, and try to imprison imaginary cartoon animals! Six days ago, I’d never heard of this thing. Now, I can’t go to the bathroom at work without running into someone on a quest for a rare Kookaburra (or whatever).

The Pokemon cartoon came out in America in 1998. I was 15 and a devoted fan of Batman: The Animated Series; I just wasn’t interested in a comparatively slipshod “Japanimation” show. However, the franchise appears to have the longevity of Power Rangers – we see a new iteration every few years, and the original, catch-em-all-able stock of little monsters has ballooned over time.

Enter some magnificent corporate bastard, who realized that the kids who spent their hard-earned allowance back in 1998 will be willing and able to dump a lot of their much larger adult income into basically the same thing. Ergo Pokemon Go, which encapsulates everything wrong with modern games and the modern world.

Starting The Game

Your first option is to log into the game using your Google account. Yes, it’s Google, the company that cheats on its taxes, suppresses dissenting viewpoints, and happily aids oppressive Communist dictators in censorship programs that Hitler could only have dreamed of. For all its “genius,” it also has the most unintuitive email service in the world. I used one of my many phony accounts to move along.

Then you have to select a username, even the most obscure of which (including “SeagalFan1” and “PrendergastOil”) seem to be taken already. Next, you design your game avatar. Very limited choices here – you can’t change the face at all, and there are only three different shirts. An essential – essential – element of modern games is the ability to custom-design your character down to pubic hair style, so expect the brains at Pokemon Go to expand these selections. Also, expect them not to be free.

Crazed Pokemon fans will gladly provide truckloads of cash in order to purchase a “unique” hat or funny boots. This is basically how Team Fortress 2 has stayed alive so long – once the actual game objectives have been completed, players will endlessly obsess over cosmetics.

Finally, I was ready to start the actual “game.” If modern games have told us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as a well-designed, intuitive experience that you naturally pick up as you play. Oh no! We need an endless tutorial section where some guy explains what the hell you’re doing. Don’t take “what the hell you’re doing” to mean “the game’s plot,” however; this game has no plot. There are no levels, no bosses to defeat, no princess to rescue. “Story” and “characters” are for lame people.

Before beginning, I was treated to this important safety warning:

Pokemon Go warning

Yeah, STAY AWARE when you’re walking across a fairy tale bridge that has tripwires instead of a safety rail, or you might miss the huge exclamation point and the giant monster. This looks like four random pieces of clip art slapped together. Who designed this?

Playing The Game

Simply standing at my desk at work (FACT: 90% of Pokemon Go activity is done in the workplace*), I immediately caught three creatures and leveled up. WOW! Quite an adventure. And it only cost me 10% of my battery life.

* May not be an actual fact

The thing takes forever to load. I managed to open it once and it froze; I opened it again, and it froze again. Just trying (and failing) to re-enter the game cost me another 3% of my battery life. That’s a huge drain for less than 5 minutes of actual playing time. At this rate, you’d be able to play for maybe a half hour before your phone is completely dead.

IT'S SO FUN HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Get ready for server failure ACTION!

After finally managing to re-enter the game, it froze and crashed in the middle of catching some kind of plant monster. Then it wouldn’t load back in. When it finally worked, I discovered I had reached Level 3 and I was down to 70% battery life. Still standing at my desk, I captured three new Pokemon, bringing my level up to 4 and my battery down to 60%. In total, I caught 12 Pokemon without taking a single step. What a great game.

Now, what’s the point of all this, you ask? Basically, if you “collect” enough Pokemon of the same type, you can evolve them into more powerful forms. For instance, your Kookaburra may evolve into a Kumbabumbra! Why? So that you can go to a “gym” – which, keep in mind, is in a real-world location – and fight other Pokemon. Ask why you’d ever want to do this and we’re into real existential territory.

The game’s interface is basically a Google map on which your avatar and various Pokemon will appear. When you attempt to capture one, the game uses your camera to show the creature hopping/flying/crawling right in front of you! WOW! It’s just like real life!!! You then swipe your finger on the screen until you catch it. That’s it.

Work can wait, I've got a thing to throw balls at!

Work can wait, I’ve got a thing to throw balls at!

Hey, but here’s some fun: the game tracks exactly where you catch each and every one of your Pokemon. That’s right, parents: some heartless corporate entity can now see every move your Pokemon Go-playing children make – where they live, where they go to school, where their friends live… Sweet dreams!

Allowing The Game To Consume Your Very Soul

To catch Pokemon, you need Pokeballs. These eventually run out, which brings us to an important decision: do we physically go to a “Pokestop” to get additional supplies for free… OR, do we simply BUY more stuff with an in-app purchase?

Yep. That’s how they get you, folks. Why take the time to actually play the game when you can simply buy your way to success? Making it free, but structuring it so that there is a direct correlation between money spent on the game and in-game success, is the equivalent of a heroin dealer telling a junkie that the first fix is free. People can and do get addicted to these things; I’ve rarely seen such a blatant, cynical money-making scheme.

In the game “Store,” all your purchases are made with Pokecoins. You can buy 100 Pokecoins with a mere $0.99. That’s an entire song on iTunes – a tangible thing you could listen to and enjoy for eternity. Or, you know, you could buy a make-believe egg that hatches after you walk two kilometers. Yeah, not miles, KILOMETERS. What is this, socialist Europe???

Even worse, a lot of these Pokestops are located at churches. Don’t worry, kids: you don’t actually have to go into the church, so God won’t be quite as depressed while you’re wasting the beautiful, miraculous life He provided you with. I was also told about a stop located on a country club golf course – where only the children of THE RICH can get to it.

We’re being told that this game will get kids out of the house. With the game being out less than a week, they’re assuring us that it’ll create this wonderful sense of community (with zero evidence to support that claim). Meanwhile, there are actual verifiable stories about criminals using this game to mug people, players breaking into buildings, people falling off cliffs, etc. Shockingly, the evidence here seems to point more toward “people aren’t good.”

It's a FUN game!

How shocking.

What will actually happen – when the inevitable in-game chat features are enabled – is that kids will be sitting inside as they always are, staring at their phones as they always do, and spending money that isn’t theirs on a shitty game that has no objective beyond “acquire more imaginary stuff.”

Is there any more eloquent summation – and condemnation – of 2016?