Clem Bastow finds the augmented reality created by Nintendo and Niantic Labs absorbing, occasionally embarrassing, and above all, addictive
Im halfway across the street nose buried in my iPhone, tracking a rare Pokmon before I look up and see the sign affixed to the cyclone wire fence: PATROLLED BY ARMED GUARDS. I find myself weighing up the situation: is it worth trespassing on Victoria Barracks in the possibly vain hope that I might catch, say, a Golbat?
This is my life in a post-Pokmon GO world. Yesterday I said Aha! out loud, when a Pidgey appeared between a mans legs as we were waiting at a pedestrian crossing.
The real world adventure game, a collaboration between Nintendo and Niantic Labs, uses GPS and augmented-reality technology to allow you to catch Pokmon in, well, the real world.
As you walk around your neighbourhood, Pokmon leap out in front of you, as though your smartphone camera were the glasses that reveal alien overlords in sci-fi classic They Live. You throw PokBalls at them in an effort to capture them, and add them to your Pokdex. (You can get extra PokBalls and other goodies by visiting your local PokStop.) Eventually, you can take your Pokmon to local Gyms, where they will battle other local champs. Keep up guys, gosh.
Its this real-world integration that makes Pokmon Go so amusing. As soon as I installed the app, a Bulbasaur jumped up from behind the couch cushions. Rattata keeps appearing in my bathroom, which I cant help but feel is a coded message about my cleanliness. The public art installation down the road is an in-game PokStop called Silver Lean Thing. And in a crushing metaphor for generational disaffection, I spent five minutes outside the local Centrelink, trying to catch a Caterpie.
In truth, I was only ever loosely invested in Pokmon. Like most people of a certain vintage, I enjoyed the Nintendo 64 game Pokmon Stadium and the long-running anime, but I was never a Pokmon trainer; I didnt own a Game Boy and I found card games frustrating. My sole exposure to the card game was when, in 1999, I worked briefly in a comic book store and I was instructed to never, ever allow anyone under the age of 15 to even look at the rare Charizard held upstairs in a safe.
But even though I am, at best, a fairweather fan, I have long had a soft spot for Pokmon (though not for me the easy charms of Pikachu; Im more of a Psyduck girl, myself).
Yes, Im sure Slavoj Zizek would have something to say about the capitalist call to arms that is the Pokmon Trainers edict, Gotta Catch Em All!, but theres also something rather poignant about the idea of raising and training your very own Pokmon friend. Unlike other toys and games that offered digital companions, such as Tamagotchi, Pokmon prevailed; its 20th anniversary Train On advertisement at this years Super Bowl was a masterpiece of feels-vertising.
Theres an epic quality to that ad, but there is something pleasingly egalitarian about Pokmon Go, in the way it expects you to travel far and wide to catch em all; the Incubators for hatching mysterious Pokmon eggs require you to walk a certain distance in order to do their job. (More than one user has remarked, after playing the game for a couple of days, that what Pokmon trainer Ash Ketchum needed all those years was a car.) Whether or not this is a sneaky way of getting couch-bound gamers out and about remains to be seen.
Ive shared slightly embarrassed glances with other suspected Pokmon Go players when weve all ended up crowded around the same landmark, unloading swag from the PokStop but my excitement when a Crabby appeared in the dairy section at the local supermarket was not shared by passing shoppers, who no doubt couldnt work out why I was enthusiastically photographing milk.
Already there are reports of churches and police stations being flooded by Pokmon Trainers keen to find rare Pokmon or grab swag from PokStops. [Its] a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street, read a Facebook post by Northern Territory police, fire and emergency services. That Sandshrew isnt going anywhere fast.
Certain landscapes are populated with particular Pokmon, which means you have to go somewhere else for a more diverse variety; my own neighbourhood is so crawling with Rattata that I wonder if there might soon be a Black Plague feature available in-game.
Crucially, like Blizzards equally addictive Hearthstone, its perfectly possible to enjoy the game without making a single in-game purchase (ie with real-world money). In this way, Pokmon Go may well usher in a new era of Pokmon trainers who are keen to recount the time when, disdaining to purchase PokCoins to move the game along, they like the Yorkshire gentlemen of old had to walk uphill barefoot in the snow just to find a Clefairy.
And now, if youll excuse me, theres a Poliwhirl lurking near my buildings carpark.