Yeah, I’m Playing Pokemon Go Too.

All I can say is that the pull of an activity that can be enjoyed with friends is really strong.

I’ve known that Pokemon Go was going to be coming out for a while, but as its release got closer and people started getting excited I figured that I’d just let it pass by as another one of those trendy games that I skip.  I already committed to one casual phone game this summer, so why would I add on another one?

Well, this casual phone game has the advantage that lots of people I know have started playing it, and it’s kind of nice to be involved in a communal experience.

Rachael and I downloaded the game the Friday after its release, and we got right into catching stuff.  Like pretty much everyone else we filled out our roster of really common Pokemon quickly and stopped catching things so frequently for about a day before we started to understand that the game isn’t designed to encourage you to be picky with what you catch (I passed up on so many Rattata and Pidgey in the first couple days), but to throw Pokeballs fast and loose without worrying too much about running out of stock (even though I did at one point; more on that in a bit).  Every common Pokemon you catch serves a purpose, even if it’s just to get some stardust and experience, and with the ability to get rid of Pokemon almost immediately after they’re caught, there’s really no need to feel like you should try to save space in your bank (after all, there’s only Generation 1 Pokemon in the game right now, leaving at least a hundred free slots in your inventory for duplicates).

This Abra is my pride and joy. Too bad it’s the only one I’ve seen so far, so it remains a very dinky little thing.

Of course, there is a limiting factor in playing this game, and that’s the Pokeballs.  Every encounter involves you throwing Pokeballs to try to hit wild Pokemon and catch them inside.  It’s a simple little flicking minigame, but it’s entertaining enough.  The issue comes when you either find yourself repeatedly missing (Pokeballs are apparently very fragile things that break if they hit the ground, so you don’t get to pick them back up even if the screen shows that it just slipped out of your hand and rolled right in front of you) or trying to catch a really ornery Pokemon that doesn’t want to stay in its ball after you hit it (you can tell which ones will have a lower catch rate because the ring that appears around them will be more red when you’re readying a throw).  I learned all of this the hard way after I unloaded twenty Pokeballs at a wild Butterfree that appeared behind my house.  I think I managed to hit it four or five times, and it escaped on all of those.  Then I ran out of Pokeballs and had to let it get away.

The big problem with running out of Pokeballs is that you only have three ways to get more: you can level up (hard to do when you don’t have any Pokeballs, since most of your XP comes from catching more Pokemon), you can buy more with coins (I haven’t earned any coins in game yet, and I don’t want to spend real money), or you can travel to the vicinity of PokeStops where you can grab free items periodically.  PokeStops are the way to go, but they have one major drawback: you really only find them in community centers.  If you happen to live in a rural area, or out in the residential parts of your town, then there aren’t likely to be any PokeStops within easy walking distance.  Because I ran out of Pokeballs on that Butterfree, I had to wait until the next day when Rachael and I planned to go for a walk on campus to see what playing the game was like in a more populated area.

This was a long wait for me, because it meant I couldn’t play around with the new toy that all my friends were talking about.  Everything was fine after our trip the next day though; if you happen to go to an area with a ton of Pokestops (and our local college campus is filled with them) then you gather Pokeballs very rapidly, even if you just set up a simple walking circuit (the recharge timer on Pokestops is only about five minutes, so it’s never a long wait for more free goodies even if you don’t have several close together).

I’ve not engaged in any gym battles yet (Rachael and I joined up with the Red team), but I’m looking forward to trying that out some time soon.  It’s not a huge priority because collecting is so much fun, but I definitely want to see what that part of the game is about.  My initial worry is that this one competitive aspect of the game will gradually become inaccessible to casual players, as I’ve already noticed from just wandering around campus that many of the gyms are guarded by multiple very strong Pokemon.  Maybe it’s just that I haven’t bothered to start actively training any of my Pokemon yet (like I said, collecting is the really fun part right now), but the numbers seem to suggest that power players who are willing to invest a lot of time and money are going to dominate the gyms that make them unavailable to other folks, which doesn’t sit too well with me.  The game is so light on features besides collecting and gym battling right now that it feels like a big negative to make one of those activities have high costs of entry.  Maybe in the future when Niantic gets around to implementing player-vs-player battles and actual trading it’ll feel more open.

For now, Pokemon Go is a really fun pastime to enjoy with my friends.  It’s a great excuse to go outside and get some exercise every day (I’ve not tried it yet, but I’m betting that this game’ll be tons of fun to play while out on a run), and the opportunities for silly photos is entertaining too.

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