I take the train to work every morning. As far as 50-minute commutes go, it’s actually pretty nice. Riders can sit back, relax, read a book or listen to a podcast – generally pass the time with whatever seated activity they prefer. After observing passengers over many train rides, I’ve noticed a few things I’d like to share:
That guy’s really focused on his iPhone – ah, it’s a tower defense game.
That older gentleman has something colorful on his tablet – ah, it’s Candy Crush.
That woman is holding her Galaxy phone sideways – oh cool, she’s playing a platformer!
And so on, and so on...
Collectively my observations have supported something I have long suspected: Everybody games. Everyone plays a video game in some form or another today, and many people play them daily.
Now, quick disclaimer: while I stand by my blanket statement, there is the obvious question of access. Poorer folks might not own the latest home consoles, powerful gaming PCs, and maybe can’t afford a slick iPhone. So perhaps not all people get to play all games regularly. However, I posit that this is more of an effect of poverty, and, in general, the populace will play video games in whatever form they can get them.
Ok, so everybody games. Now, this shouldn’t be a shock to anybody, it’s actually something I’ve been spouting for years. But there’s always been some resistance to the idea, usually taking the form of a semantic debate. “Mobile games aren’t real games” say the naysayers, “playing Windows Solitaire doesn’t make you a gamer”, and so on. This sudden disagreement on terminology transforms the discussion into a debate of what is and isn’t a video game, not whether playing games is a universal trait.
Because it is. Playing video games is universal trait.
To take another aside: Traditional “gamers” can be (in)famously protective of their self-designated title/subculture, while non-traditional gamer types often don’t want to be associated with those dudes anyway. This is why we use terms like “casual” and “hardcore” despite them not being even remotely accurate in terms of player engagement, and why mobile games all get lumped into the diminutive “Mobile” category, regardless of genre and gameplay value. This, by the way, is coming from a guy who doesn’t much enjoy mobile games either. The games I prefer to play demand physical buttons, so I’m not big on mobile. But I wouldn’t dare claim that my favorite type of games are the only true games.
The semantic nitpicking at play is itself a sign that all of us have already accepted the underlying reality: Everybody games. Regardless of what constitutes a true video game to you personally, it can’t be denied that the medium of interactive electronic entertainment is more popular than ever before. And it is literally everywhere.
Nintendo recently released their second mobile phone app, Pokémon Go. Unlike their first app (Miitomo), this wasn’t a cautious test of the waters in the mobile ecosystem – this one’s less experiment and more game. And the public response has been overwhelming! From my unscientific/anecdotal observations, at least three out of every four people I’ve seen using their cell phones this week has been playing Pokémon Go. It wasn’t just kids. It wasn’t just tech-savvy folks from my office. Not some specific demographic; it was everybody. In fact, a woman seated beside me on the train was playing this game while I typed this part.
If you still had doubts that games are not as universal as movies, you can let it go. Everyone is now onboard.
While I haven’t played the game myself, I have to respect what Nintendo and Niantic have done with Pokémon Go. (Best known for making Google’s augmented reality game, Ingress, Niantic developed this game with The Pokémon Company.) Like a clever parent who has to trick children into eating their vegetables, N&N has convinced the citizens of the United States to actually go outside and walk around – in real life! You see, the augmented reality Pokémon experience is a health game in disguise! God damn genius.
One goal Nintendo has discussed in recent years has been the development of products to promote health and fitness. After the colossal success of Wii Sports and adequate success of Wii Fit, apparently the Big N felt like a health focus was the right thing to do. And after years of resisting the mobile app market, the gaming giant has finally jumped right into making games for the computers in everybody’s pockets. It would seem that by focusing on the exploration and collection elements of the RPG series, along with a bit 3D animation overlaid on your camera’s view, Pokémon Go's designers have finally figured out how to get people off their asses. It’s pretty damn clever.
Now you may wonder, is there something more sinister at play here? What is Nintendo’s end goal in releasing what will surely be the single biggest phone app of all time? Well, there's the micro-transactions for one thing. Then I suppose there’s always the chance that Pokémon Go could be used as a giant data-mining tool, tracking your location all the time. There's certainly potential for abuse, and the app has already prompted privacy concerns. But if you played any of Nintendo’s other app, Miitomo, I’m guessing you aren’t too worried about that.
Miitomo, by the way, was pretty transparent about coveting your information. The entire game, after all, is based around asking you questions; constant, incessant questions. Then, like a treacherous big brother, Miitomo would share the things you told it to all of your friends. Your friends’ answers, likewise, would be shared with you, in what Nintendo called a social game – like Facebook with Miis! (Wow, that sounds horrible now that I think about it.) Plus there was just a splash of outfit collecting/displaying and photo creation to dress it up.
Despite its lack of gameplay, I did think Miitomo had its moments early on. If your friends were really funny – usually by giving super dark and twisted responses to squeaky clean, sanitized questions – the app might prove to be an acceptable momentary diversion. But tedium of answering endless stupid questions, combined with the nauseatingly cute Mii aesthetic, wore out its welcome pretty quick for me. By the way, is anybody still playing Miitomo?
I just heard one of my coworkers say, "I turned all of my Zubats into candy." What was my point here…? Oh yeah! Everybody games.
As the country gets carried away in a new wave of Pokémania cranked up to 11, we’re sure to see a few self-righteous folks making fun of everybody for playing on their phones. They’ll call it a fad and shame people for feeling compelled to catch them all. (Speaking of fads, it will be interesting to see how long Pokémon Go remains a red-hot talking point.) If you are one of those Pokéhaters, I’d like to dissuade you from bullying the people out there having a good time. Not because I personally enjoy the game – I haven’t played it – but because teasing people makes you look like a jerk.
Plus, as I may have already mentioned, everybody games. By railing against Pokémon, you’re not pointing out who the weirdos are. You are the weirdo. The legion of Pokémon supporters vastly outnumbers the people who hate it. Just something to keep in mind the next time you shame a grownup for completely losing their mind about catching a Snorlax.
Big thanks to my fellow Mozzers Abe & Janisha for providing the Pokémon Go screenshots.