Pokémon No

I still remember the first time I heard of Pokémon. It was the fall of 1998 and I was 6 years old. My neighborhood friends were across the street from my parents’ house and I walked over to join them. They were doing the usual role playing thing we’d do: playing with sticks and throwing imaginary energy/magic/projectiles at each other. Something was different this time. They were using names I hadn’t heard before, and naming their imaginary attacks things like “Flamethrower” and “Thunder Shock”.

The next day, I watched the anime on the after-school block on DC’s UPN affiliate, UPN20 (Go ahead and Google “UPN”, I’ll wait here). That December, I received an atomic purple Game Boy Color and a copy of Pokémon Red for my birthday. (Six months later, I lost both at summer camp. That loss still haunts me, 17 years later.) In 1999, I got into the Trading Card Game, I dragged my mom to the theater to see “Pokémon: The First Movie”, and I had the toys, the shirts, the merchandise, all of it.

In other words: I was there.

Which is why it pains me to say that I don’t feel great about Pokémon Go. In fact, there’s a lot about Pokémon Go and its corresponding hype that I find insufferable. Since it’s 2016, I figured we could explore these feelings together at the place we do such things, Medium.com, with the help of America’s favorite Pokémon, Pikachu. Wave hi, Pikachu!

When several of these Pokémon gather, their electricity could build and cause lightning storms.

With introductions out of the way, let’s get to the first thing I find annoying about Pokémon Go.

The App

Damn right, Pikachu

From Pokémon Go’s App Store page:

Now’s your chance to discover and capture the Pokémon all around you — so get your shoes on, step outside, and explore the world.

That all sounds great, sign me up! Unfortunately, Niantic seems to have focused on the “sign me up!” part, becuase that app keeps asking me to sign up again, pretty much every single time I launch it. I’ve seen that single screen more than any actual gameplay screen. Typing in credentials is already one of the biggest pain points of any mobile app. Hell, over 50% of people abandon new apps because they see the sign up page and go “nah”. The fact that I always see the sign up prompt reeks of amateur hour.

Further compounding this are the options presented to the user. You can either use your Google account or create a new one just for Pokémon Go. In other words, you can go with a secure, pre-existing account to log in or you can create yet another account and set of credentials you have to manage. I opted for the former. Should be straight forward then, right?

Nope. My Google account has 2 factor authentication turned on, so after punching in my email and password, I have to leave Pokémon Go, launch Authy, copy the authenticator code to my clipboard, return to Pokémon Go, paste the code, and then, only then, am I in. Google has a check box that allows users to turn this off for specific devices, but Pokémon Go doesn’t support this because it doesn’t seem to store anything from that webview post-authentication. It also doesn’t use Safari View Controller, which would let the app leverage my existing Google session and/or autofill credentials to to make logging in easier.

All of this adds up to an experience that feels like this:

I am Ash, and the act of throwing the Poké ball at Pikachu is trying to use the app.

I haven’t even gotten to the battery life, server issues, or privacy stuff because this log in issue effectively prevents me from playing the game. Which leads me to the next thing that bugs me about Pokémon Go.

The Gameplay

Pikachu is ambivalent

I’ll keep this brief: I don’t enjoy playing this game. The times I actually have been able to launch the app without having to log in, I’ve found the core gameplay of flinging Poké Balls to be kind of boring and it feels like a far cry from the games that I remember enjoying as a kid. I also have a strong bias against free-to-play games which monetize through consumable in app purchases, and seeing that stuff in this Pokémon game didn’t feel great either.

The fact that I get little enjoyment out the game itself is what makes the following feel even worse.

The Hype

I’m not sure whether the metaphor is I am Pikachu attacking the hypetrain or Pikachu is the hypetrain shocking me.

We’ve already established that I’m not playing Pokémon Go much because the log in process is terrible and I’m not happy with the core game mechanics. Based on the amount of content I see about Pokémon Go on the web, this does not seem to the be the case for most people. Screenshots, anecdotes, and memes are all over Twitter, Facebook, Vine, and it’s the top story on Techmeme right now. The hype is so strong with Pokémon Go that Nintendo’s stock is up 22%, and it’s overtaken some pretty popular apps in installations over on Android.

This sort of thing happens when a new piece of pop culture, like a movie, album, game, app, or live event, resonates with a lot of people. That’s fine. What Pokémon Go does is add pervasiveness to the mix. The game is truly mobile, it involves going around to real world locations to catch Pokémon and do things within the game. And it’s not particularly subtle either:

My feelings on this are straightforward: I am reflexively annoyed by all of it. The causes of this feeling are more complex. It’s less about any specific people, or Pokémon itself, but more on how people are reacting to this stuff. (I’m not going to link/embed any tweet examples because I don’t want to be mean.) I think this is a fair breakdown of what bugs me:

  1. The presumed novelty of meeting strangers doing the same thing as you in a public place: Look, I get that it’s cool to see other people play Pokémon Go when you leave your house, but the act of sharing a space with other people who are doing the same activity as you is not new. It’s literally the vast majority of the world outside your home. Imagine if people expressed such wonder when witnessing other people at a grocery store, a restaurant, a park, a movie theater, or a concert. That’s how this feels to me.
  2. The presumed novelty of exploring the world around you: I have similar feelings here. The world around you is a pretty cool place (with some exceptions). There’s also sorts of colors, textures, objects, buildings, animals, and everything. It’s beautiful! The graphics are amazing! It doesn’t ask you to log in every time you launch the app! And it was already there! And who knows, you could meet some other cool people exploring it too! I know I have. (Yes, I’m aware that I’m in full “get off my damn lawn” mode here, but the images of people roaming around Central Park with their faces in their phones along with people acting like its a big deal really bothers me.)
  3. The Bandwagon Effect: Where have you guys been the last 15 years? Pokémon never actually went away, it evolved through multiple iterations of the games, anime, and trading card game. It’s not like Star Wars, where it was just done forever. The people behind Pokémon have been doing all sorts of interesting stuff with the franchise, like adding online trading and battles in the core series games, experimenting with the characters in games like Pokken Tournament, and world building in the anime with Pokémon Chronicles and Pokémon Origins. That so much of the current Pokémon Go hype is steeped in nostalgia feels regressive to me. (For the record, I feel the same way when people say Mario Kart 64 is the best Mario Kart game.)
  4. It’s Everywhere: With most other pop culture things, avoiding everything about them is pretty straightforward. Don’t want to see Captain America? Don’t go to a movie theater and see it. Don’t want to watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Don’t queue it up on Netflix. You don’t have to participate in these things or even witness people partaking in them. This is not case with Pokémon Go. Almost everywhere I’ve gone in the Bay Area has had people conspicuously playing the game, a constant reminder of all the things that annoy me about it.


Sad Pikachu is sad

So far, I’ve said that:

  • The app is feels user hostile, and discourages me from playing it
  • The actual gameplay is not appealing to me
  • The pervasiveness and the hype really bother me

All of these things converge on a feeling I haven’t felt since middle/high school: The feeling of being excluded, of being alienated for not conforming, of being on the outside. This isn’t FOMO, I’m straight up missing out.

Let’s be clear, I’m very good at ignoring or avoiding whatever the current zeitgeist is. I haven’t seen a single episode of “Game of Thrones”. I didn’t put any time into Flappy Bird. I still haven’t listened to “The Life of Pablo” all the way through. I haven’t seen a single Marvel film since “The Avengers” was released in 2012. And I’m perfectly fine with all of this. Maybe I’ll get to some of these things. Maybe I won’t. It’ll be fine either way. There’s other stuff I truly enjoy that I can share with people.

This feels different. Remember, I was there. Pokémon is part of my childhood. It opened my eyes to anime, to video games, to Japan, to things that are part of who I am. It feels like I should be a part of this, especially when I see how much joy people get out of it. At the same time, forcing myself to play this game feels disingenuous. I’d be doing it just to conform, not because I actually enjoy it. I’d be suppressing my emotions instead of deferring to them. It’s a lose-lose situation.

The End

Pika Pika!

Writing this has been cathartic. It’s helped me step back and understand why I feel the way I do. Just to be clear, nothing here is prescriptive or directed towards anyone personally. My feelings are not directed at indivduals, but more at how we collectively are responding to this weird new thing. Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re conflicted.

So what’s the resolution? Will Niantic fix the login bugs, and I find out that I actually enjoy the game? Will Pokémon Go just fade away in a week or month? Will I perpetually dislike this thing that everyone else seems to love?

Find out on the next episode of Pokémon:

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