A Roleplayer’s view of Pokémon GO

Edward Terry
Aug 3, 2016 · 5 min read


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Pokémon GO is a global phenomenon. You can’t avoid it (unless it’s not available in your country). Stories are in the press almost daily (shortly after release at least), but the novelty soon wears off.

Sure, there are hordes of players who are addicted and out there day and night collecting them all. It gets them off the couch and out doing some exercise, breathing the fresh air and discovering things about the neighbourhood they probably never knew. And I am sure they will continue to play, collect and dominate gyms like there’s no tomorrow.

But for the ‘older’ gamer, the gamer who doesn’t have an infinite pool of time to fritter away wandering about looking for the elusive Eevee or Pikachu or the gamer who likes a bit of a challenge, Pokémon GO quickly falls flat.

Pokémon Gone?

The Next Web wrote a good piece on this, basically surmising it’s just a waste of time as it’s just another game trying to eat your time and money (which is true). Pocket Gamer looked at it from the gaming angle and surmised that the game is broken beyond level 30 as the XP curve becomes exponential and, since you’ve already caught them all by that stage, you’ll be forever grinding through 100XP catches to inexorably move towards your goal.

I’ve been playing since just after the launch in the UK and already reached level 11. I’m not an active player — I don’t have time — but it was fun to try it out for a while. New Pokémon types crop up periodically so I expand my Pokedex and get XP to move up through the levels at a pace that feels like progress. I hatch the occasional egg, evolve and power up Pokémon and look forward to seeing which new Pokémon might pop up.

But I already began to notice a trend.

There are a lot of Rattata and Pidgey’s around, quite a few Drowzee and Spearow and a smattering of others. Over time, the frequency of newer Pokémon like Caterpie and Weedle (usually with strangely low CP compared to others that appear) increased from never seeing them to having a few appear now and again. Zubats used to be common but now seem rare.

But, every Pokémon catch rewards you the same way with only a slight variation on the accuracy of your throw. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is to catch a Pokémon (the green, yellow, orange, or red circle that appears on them when you are throwing), and it doesn’t matter if you use razzberries or one of the more powerful Pokeballs you might acquire. You always get the same points. 100XP for catching one you caught before, and 500XP for catching a new type. And that’s it.

The Experience Treadmill

As a (former) role player, any game worth it's salt would rank Pokémon based on rarity. This means the rarer Pokémon would carry a higher XP (so maybe 5000XP for a rare one the first time, and 1000XP each time after that, and you might not see some of them until you reach a certain level). Also, the colour of the circle would act as a multiplier so you gain more XP for harder encounters. If you use razzberries, the multiplier would go down as you placate the Pokémon making it easier to catch. The more misses you make also reduces the XP a little encouraging you to get more accurate.

You would also rank Pokémon based on their CP. At the moment a Pokémon with a CP of 10 earns you the same XP as a CP 1000 of the same type. In a role-playing game (at the simplest level) a CP10 would earn less XP than a CP1000. In a more evolved role-playing game, the CP of the Pokémon would be factored against your own level indicating a chance to catch (which you would then effect with razzberries — not just one — or stronger Pokeballs) and the overall equation would derive the XP award when the Pokémon is caught. You would even earn XP for failing to catch the Pokémon, but this is an equivalence for learning from your mistakes.

The math isn’t complex but it adds variability and excitement for each encounter. It also creates a requirement for skill in the encounter instead of simply relying on chucking balls at the bouncing critter until it stays caught.

Gyms need a Workout

Gym battles would get the same treatment. At the moment they seem to be essentially a question of mashing the screen at just the right speed, unleashing a special at the appropriate moment, and as long as your CP is higher than your opponent you should be on to a winner. This either strengthens the gym (if you’re the same faction) or weakens it (if you’re not).

Personally, this is just dull. There is no apparent skill required in the actual combat itself. Needless to say, I didn’t visit many gyms after this experience.

Pokémon should be more interactive. The combat should be engaging, challenging, demanding. Pokémon should have AI. And you should be able to collect other items which can help you in battle or hinder your opponent.

Two Dimensional

The problem with the game is that it is just that. It is a two-dimensional game, a diversion and distraction. As an ‘older’ gamer you need a bit of depth to an MMO. Maybe that’s the distinction here — Pokémon GO is only a massive multi-player online game (MMOG) and not a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).

The lack of the ‘RP’ (role play) element also limits interaction in the game to zero. Unlike games such as Warcraft where you actually meet other characters in-game (both actual players and non-players alike) there are no surprises, no wild cards, no Pokémon thieves who might snatch your babies leaving you to go out and find them anew all over again, or track down the thief to get them back.

The game’s only apparent dynamic is levelling up and championing gyms (which is why you have to catch them all). And with the current over-simplified XP system the game degenerates into another routine task sooner or later. For me, it took two weeks of ad hoc sessions.

However, simple is apparently exactly what you need to make a hit. That and a recognisable IP (intellectual property).

Augmented Reality is the new Matrix?

When they manage to figure out how to make Warcraft an AR (augmented reality) app, I’m in (or Star Trek, Star Wars, etc, etc). Imagine meeting another player and holding your camera phone up to them and seeing them sporting their in-game costume and gear. Imagine actually questing together. Or seeing something like the Matrix overlaid on the real world which you could actually interact with.

Niantic also made the earlier Ingress game which has more complexity to it than Pokémon GO. I avoided it shortly after launch because it looked, well, like a 1990s computer game but checked it out briefly this week. There are more things to do, more variables and hence more complexity. But it still comes down to farming, collecting and winning nodes in the game to level up, all without any interaction though there is a global chat option.

Just another waste of your valuable time.

Originally published at https://www.hologram.me.uk on August 3, 2016.


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