After weeks of anticipation, it is now officially here. I am of course talking about Pokémon Go, which became officially available in the country on Saturday, August 6, stealing the thunder from the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that happened at the same day. (sorry, Rio Olympics) And so far, the response to this game among Filipinos has been, just as it has been elsewhere in the world where Pokémon Go has been officially launched so far (not counting of course those who managed to bypass geographical restrictions so they can play it in their corner of the globe)
But what makes this particular game so popular? There have been many explanations behind this new phenomenon, which I’m sure sound a lot better than what I may offer. After all, the Urban Roamer is by no means a gamer, just an occasional casual one. But as someone who has found himself drawn to the interactive charms of this mobile game, I have found myself to be part of the bandwagon enjoying it for what it’s worth, though not as hardcore as others have been.
ABOUT POKÉMON GO
First things first, let’s talk about what Pokémon Go is all about. It is a free mobile game developed by Niantic in association with The Pokémon Company, the owner of the Pokémon franchise, of which Nintendo is the major player. Basically, you become a virtual Pokémon trainer as you locate, catch, train, and fight as many Pokémon as you can to train and evolve using your mobile phone’s GPS and augmented reality technology (causing some serious drain on your mobile device’s battery), creating a virtual experience that looks as if the Pokémon exists on the same realm as we are.
Developed in time for the 20th anniversary of Pokémon this year, Pokémon Go was first released in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand on July 6, 2016 and has been rolled out in different parts of the world since and counting. The overwhelming response to this game so far has certainly given the franchise a newfound level of success reminiscent of when Pokémon was first introduced in Japan in 1996. While Pokémon itself has enjoyed a pop icon status since it began, the popularity of the game has certainly taken its popularity into new levels of craze.
THE CRAZE HITS THE COUNTRY….OFFICIALLY
The official availability of Pokémon Go in the country last weekend was itself a culmination of days and weeks of anticipation among many Filipinos, especially who got to have their first taste of the game through unofficial hacks (I have to confess, I was one of those who did that…out of curiosity) before Niantic decided to block the local servers trying to access the game. Early adopters of the game found themselves suddenly deprived. For the meantime, anticipating the high data costs such a game would incur, the telcos offered free data promos for Pokémon Go…as soon as it becomes officially available.
So as soon as the announcement came, Pokémon Go was on almost every mobile phone in the country as pretty much everyone is now going out just to catch Pokémon. These days, if you see someone looking at the phone while walking, chances are that person is playing Pokémon Go. All of the sudden, everyone seems to be a Pokémon trainer now. Yup, that’s how wild it is right now.
THE METROPOLIS BECOMES A PLAYGROUND
One unique feature of the game that I forgot to point out earlier was that it virtually transforms your environment into this vast Pokémon world in your pocket. All of the sudden, the streets that you walk on, the places you go to (many of them, at least), even those places you just pass by along the way have become vital landmarks which you can either get rewards such as Poké balls, eggs, and potions (which are called PokéStops) or where you get to train or fight Pokémon trainers for points and experience (AKA the Pokémon gyms). For instance, that Arturo Luz sculpture at Ayala Museum is a designated PokéStop as is other random spots such as the Rizal Park flagpole, a funeral parlor in Caloocan, and a watertank at Commonwealth Market in Quezon City. But it does not end there. Places as random as the head office of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) a Methodist Church in Muntinlupa, and a chapel of the Iglesia Ni Cristo in Pasig have been designated as Pokémon gyms. Imagine fighting or doing fight training of a virtual pocket monster at a place of worship. Huh.
Speaking of eggs, these eggs hatch to become Pokémon themselves, which is achieved through incubation. There’s a twist here though. For the incubation to complete so these eggs can hatch, you have to walk or run a certain number of kilometers. So pretty much, Pokémon Go forces you to go for a long walk outdoors of at least 2 kilometers to get those eggs to hatch. And if you are not someone like the Urban Roamer who pretty much walks around the city, well it’s time for you to get used to it. Or you can play while in slow-moving traffic so the game gives an impression you were walking.
ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES
With so many articles and stories being shared about Pokémon Go for the past month, with more definitely to come in the months ahead, I suppose you should be familiar by now of the problems highlighted, if not created, by Pokémon Go. There are stories of people getting into accidents, both minor and major, because they were too fixated on their Pokémon Go game. There is also the danger of theft in which thieves may take the opportunity of seeing someone busy playing the game so they can steal stuff, even the phone you’re using in the game.
All PUV drivers are reminded that playing #PokemonGo while driving is prohibited. Please report violators to us so we can catch ‘em all.
— Official LTFRB (@LTFRB) August 7, 2016
There is also the problem of unwanted intrusion as people wander off to places unknown to catch that Pokémon or get rewards at that PokéStop. Or it could be just people go in certain places such as a restaurant or place of worship just to do those things instead of the things you are supposed to do when you go to such places, like to eat or pray respectively. It is interesting to know at least how Niantic determines which places are designated as PokéStops or gyms. At this time of writing, I have not heard of any establishments here banning people from playing Pokémon Go in their premises as it is in the case in some establishments in other countries (Japan for instance requested Niantic to remove the PokéStop designation for the Hiroshima Bomb Memorial). But I would not be surprised if it happens. That should not be taken against them since I understand their position.
Despite these issues, Pokémon Go provides a number of benefits and opportunities as well. In other countries, there are establishments as well that have embraced the Pokémon Go phenomenon and has put some interesting promotions for players who are there to entice them to stay not just for these being PokéStops. It would be interesting to see what promotions establishments here in the metro would cook up in relation to Pokémon Go.
In a span of just a month, Pokémon Go has become the new social, as friends and families get to bond more over this game. More importantly, Pokémon Go made it cool to explore the world in fun and different light, discovering new things and places along the way that you may not have noticed before, all thanks to playing this game. For this longtime roamer who has sometimes felt frustration with how some people take important spots in the city for granted, if it takes a “silly” game, of all things, like this one for people to take notice and appreciate the city’s overlooked charm and beauty, I am all for it.
So to all of you Pokémon Go players and fans, keep roaming and explore the city, play safe, play responsibly, and I hope you get to catch ’em all.
Acknowledgements as well to CNN Philippines, Spot.ph, and Japan Times
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