Pokémon and the Nintendo Company recently announced that they will be releasing Pokémon GO in 2016. Tsunekazu Ishihara, president and CEO of The Pokémon Company said, “Our challenge was to develop a great game for smartphone devices that expressed the core values of Pokémon.” If you’re snickering right now at the phrase “core values of Pokémon,” or “The Pokémon Company,” just know that this is very serious; it will affect my life irretrievably.
Pokémon GO will be available on Android and iPhone devices, and will use location and social networking-based software to allow people to play Pokémon in real world locations. It also will include another optional piece of hardware that connects to the phone via bluetooth. This device will vibrate to indicate another trainer or wild Pokémon nearby. This is absolutely terrible news for everything I have built over the past 19.5 years.
My interest in Pokémon (read: obsession), began when I was about 5 years old. The cards, the shows, the Pokémon themselves filled my waking and dreaming moments. I used to play with household objects, inventing Pokémon with names like “Oranjibrow” (an orange, stuffed M&M caricature).
A perennial favorite and aptly named game was “Pokémon guess.” In this game I would pick a Pokémon card from my already alarmingly large collection and demand that my parents guess what it was. You might think that it could be a fun variant on 20 questions, or would at least help my parents make up some ground on the Pokémon knowledge I was already light years ahead of them on. You would be wrong on both accounts. When my parents guessed incorrectly, I would say “Nope!” and put the card back in the box. No explanation, no conversation, no reward for a correct guess. It was so much fun.
Not surprisingly, my parents had another kid a few years after that, and though my brother picked up the mantle of Pokémon, he never quite embraced it the way I did. My mom accurately summarized our childhood the other day when she said “Zander played with things, and Thad played with Zander.” From those words, you could see me as a charismatic leader, or an antisocial weirdo.
By this point, I was starting to meticulously organize Pokémon cards in large binders. I quite literally wanted to be the very best. I was convinced I was going pro in both baseball and soccer, and was going to be a Pokémon master in my spare time. In 2016, I may have a chance to reach my last, but certainly not least childhood dream.
The big revolution in this story came when I started to play the Pokémon video games. Virtual realities have a certain calling to me. You might think this means that I have a great social media presence and am a phone magnet. Sure, I like taking snapchats on the toilet and retweeting dumb shit, but it’s not the perfect thing for me. The virtual realities in my life are not often used for social interaction or independence–they mostly serve as ways to emulate Pokémon.
For example, I’m currently a full time coach of four fantasy football teams. From the outside, this could be seen as a pleasant way of connecting with the friends and family I play it with. In reality, my fantasy football profession is a NFL-based Pokémon game. Like in Pokémon, you want the strongest players so you can crush the other managers (trainers). Both fantasy football and Pokémon have the same goal: to be the very best. The only difference, as of now, is their connection to the real world. Pokémon GO is seeking to overleap that distinction.
When Pokémon GO is introduced, my inherent desire to catch ‘em all and be the very best, though currently bubbling below the surface, will reach boiling point. I’ll forsake my education, and begin my life roaming the country. I’ll go into dangerous caves, forests and mountains in search of rare Pokémon. I’ll ruthlessly challenge and defeat my closest friends in battles. I’ll shelve all my years of education and social interaction for the thrill of stopping Team Rocket .
As someone who is interested in evolutionary biology, I wonder, why are virtual realities so fun? How can a world where you capture creatures in weird balls captivate people for decades? Though these questions are important, what I really want to know is this: when are Pokémon going to become real?
As a nation, I’m sure we could reserve a quarter of our country’s budget for developing GO into an even better virtual reality. In the meantime, I’m likely to spend three quarters of my daily life being a Pokémon trainer in 2016.