The Pokémon franchise is a testament to the brilliance of consumer capitalism. An innovative and seemingly absurd concept delivered by a multi-national corporation to fulfil desires that consumers did not know they had, spawning a hugely entertaining, and profitable, franchise.
As someone who grew up in the 1990s, the games, cards, toys, and anime of Pokémon made up much of the wallpaper of my childhood. Amazingly, it continues to fulfil a similar role for subsequent generations as new Generations of games, and the nineteen year-old anime, continue to consistently attract children of any sex and age and, increasingly, adults.
This widespread success probably has something to do with the variety of Pokémon (some powerful, some cute); the distinct goals (you can ‘catch ‘em all’ or create the strongest team); the harmony of continuity and development; and the multiple mediums.
The release of Pokémon Go, an augmented reality app that allows you to catch and fight Pokémon ‘in the real world’, has been a huge success even by Pokémon’s standards. Downloads in the UK exceeded 5 million in its first week and Nintendo’s stock price has exploded (until new guidance suggested Nintendo won't make quite the revenues they expected from Go). In particular, the game has been popular among adults, such as myself, who played Generation I twenty years ago.
Although fundamentally based on a simplistic gimmick of throwing balls at small Japanese monsters, Pokémon Go is great fun. This is partly due to accessibility and the ease of play, contrasting with many contemporary games, which develop hardcore cult followings but lock out normal people. Nostalgia value and Pokémon’s inherent mass appeal are also factors. And the fact that the app is free doesn’t hurt. Mostly, though, it is the familiar (Pokémon) being used in conjunction with the novel (augmented reality gaming) that has made the game an explosive success.
Not unexpectedly, with great success has come great resentment. A legion of rag-tag undesirables has lined up to express their fear and loathing of Pokémon Go. Every species of misanthropic misery-merchant, including religious fanatics, anti-capitalist clowns, creepy paternalist regulators, busybodies, and envious nobodies, has come out of the woodwork to attack people for having fun.
This is nothing new. All of the worst people hated Pokémon from its inception. It has long been accused of being Satanic/Masonic/Jewish (as, I believe, is the ASI in some circles). Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa in 2001, which has been renewed for Pokémon Go to emphasise that they’re still ridiculous in 2016. Fundamentalist Christians hated its promotion of evolution and Satanism. Moral guardians panicked over violent content. And left-wing pseudo-intellectuals frowned upon its competitive and consumerist ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ ethos.
Pokémon Go has proven an even greater ire-magnet. Gaming purists are sneeringly disdainful about AR technology taking off with something as trivial, mainstream, simplistic, and lowbrow as Pokémon. Conspiracy theorists are convinced that the Illuminati/government/corporations have sinister intentions for the data it accesses. Nanny-statists have jumped on exaggerated safety concerns to strangle the game with red tape. The far-left are making vague, vapid noises about AR vindicating nonsensical concerns about alienation and capitalism. And Internet identitarians are desperate to prove that Pokémon Go, like everything else, is racist and classist.
I suspect that most of the swivel-eyed hatred towards Pokémon Go stems from bitterness over the benefits it provides and the enormous potential it merely hints at. For puritans, the idea of people actually being happy is offensive. For luddites, the idea of technology making people happy is horrifying. For nanny-statists, the notion that the market can solve ‘social issues’, such as obesity, is terrifying as it makes their existence redundant. And for the hard left, any evidence that capitalism provides any kind of benefits to anyone needs to be explained away and smeared.
AR can only be increasingly important, innovative, and profitable. Any trial run deserves interest and respect. Pokémon is an ideal fit because it is simple, user-friendly and a tried-and-tested formula. A previous attempt at an AR game, Ingress, was less successful, despite near-identical technology, due to being more complex and lacking brand recognition.
The fact that it is played outdoors and requires players to move around promotes exercise and exploration. The technology could be one of the best ways to keep people fit. It also gets people talking: strangers on the street and the bus have engaged me in conversation about catching Pokémon. Asides from the boost to Nintendo’s stock, other businesses are benefitting, with many attracting customers by becoming Pokémon hotspots.
And, most importantly, people enjoy it, directly undermining the agendas of most of its critics.