Like many children born in the ’90s, I grew up playing far more Pokémon than was probably healthy, so when Pokémon GO launched in early July, I played constantly and felt like a child again. However, as time has passed, the magic vanished and I think I know why.
For anyone who does not know, Pokémon is a franchise that began in 1996 with two Game Boy games where the player travels around the exotic locales of the fictional world, capturing creatures known as Pokémon.
Pokémon GO is an app that uses augmented reality technology to recreate this experience, as players walk around with the app open and encounter Pokémon in real-world locations.
To be clear, yes, Pokémon GO requires people to walk while keeping an eye on their phone, and yes, just like texting, if you are too focused on your phone while walking, odds are you’re going to twist an ankle or worse. However, I know dozens of people who are playing without incident. Pokémon GO is not dangerous if played correctly and intelligently.
Strangely, many people seem to have swung the other way, and are making grand predictions about Pokémon GO’s profitability and lasting social impact. Pokémon GO has undeniably done a lot of good, bringing millions of people outside and connecting players from all walks of life.
Whether analysts love the game or hate it, the underlying question seems to be: Is Pokémon GO a social phenomenon or simply a fad?
At the risk of voicing an unpopular opinion, I feel Pokémon GO is just a fad. There are many reasons I think this, but I will briefly summarize my three main thoughts.
First, the game is inherently limited. Personally, I have already caught every common Pokémon in the immediate area and so would need to travel to geographically distinct regions to catch more. I enjoy the app but not nearly enough to start travelling around the country.
Secondly, even if Niantic did introduce the hundreds of Pokémon that appear in later games, beyond the original 150, doing so is not going to reverse Pokémon GO’s fortunes. Many people, myself included, are playing Pokémon GO fueled by fond memories of the Saturday morning cartoon and hours spent with the game. The newer Pokémon do not have a significant nostalgia factor and so will not lure players in nearly the same numbers.
Finally, the game is too easy, a fact that was also true of the original material. It is impossible to lose at Pokémon and, while that works to market the game to children, many users of Pokémon GO are adults who will eventually tire of a game that is not challenging.
When all is said and done, Pokémon GO reminds me of the pet rock craze of decades past. The success of pet rocks stunned analysts at the time and, looking back, even people who used to own pet rocks can only shake their heads in bemusement and wonder what they were thinking.
I enjoyed playing Pokémon GO this summer and I may open the app occasionally in months to come. However, as I remember walking 10 kilometers in two days to hatch a Hitmonchan, I do find myself smiling fondly, wondering what got into me. And that is the essence of a fad.
Business communication graduate student
Printed in the 9/21/16 issue.