I was only 6 years old when the Pokémon craze started taking off in the U.S. back in 1997. I didn't know much about it, and I didn't care much about it – but my older brother did. And because he did, I had to, too, because he was cool, and I wanted to be cool like him. So every weekend, we would watch Pokémon together in the morning.
Soon after, my brother started investing in Pokémon merchandise like trading cards, stuffed animals, and action figures. Being the bratty little sister I am, I followed suit. I, too, collected trading cards, action figures, and stuffed animals. I eventually even got my hands on a Pikachu virtual pet.
Our parents gifted us Game Boy Pockets one Christmas. Aside from the Christmas where we got a Super Nintendo, this was probably one of the best Christmases ever. Along with those Game Boys, we also got a couple of games. Included in our stash was both Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue.
My brother started on Pokémon Red immediately. I started on Blue, but quickly figured out that I really don't care to catch pokémon of my own. I liked the show, I liked Pikachu, but I wasn't suffering from "Pokémania". Soon I stopped caring as much about Pokémon. But despite my own lack of interest, the cultural influence of Pokémon was everywhere. A lot of kids my age were really into Pokémon. If somebody mentioned Pokémon in the classroom, the entire room would be involved in discussion about it. If somebody said, “I wanna be the very best,” you can safely assume that a good portion of the class would continue the song for as long as a teacher would let them.
I can't recall much about Pokémon after that. Nobody really talked about it in middle school, probably out of fear of it being viewed as “a kid game”. However, by the time I reached high school, it was sort of cool again (or at least not taboo) thanks to nostalgia. My younger brother and sister were just getting into the later games in the series at that point, so I knew it still had some gas in the tank, but never did I think that Pokémon would be relevant to people my age again.
And yet here we are, 2016, and the new mobile game Pokémon GO has already become a cultural phenomenon over the course of a few short days here in the States, even taking over social media network Twitter when it comes to the amount of daily users. I’m in awe. Even I found that even I am having fun with it. My mom is interested in the game, and she was a repeat offender at calling it both “Digimon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh”, and sometimes a mutation of all three.
But the most baffling and beautiful thing about Pokémon GO is not how quickly it gained popularity; it’s that it has actually managed to break down that anti-social stigma surrounding smartphones over the past few years. Now when my kids and I go to the park on walks (and now to look for pokémon), we are greeted with waves and, “Hey, have you seen such and such pokémon around here lately?” or, “Hey, what team are you?” (Mystic here, by the way) rather than walking past each other, possibly with a head nod, or possibly pretending that the other doesn't even exist. It's not uncommon to see people's faces buried in their phones, but Pokémon has seemingly given people a reason to occasionally look up and physically interact with other people around them. People are actually coming together over something like Pokémon. I guess I just never imagined that the Pokémon universe could ever be implemented in society, even if only through augmented reality (possibly virtual reality in the future?), and implemented well.
I don't know how long this craze will last. There's arguably few similarities between how you play Pokémon GO and how you play more traditional Pokémon games, but I still find it surprisingly fun to play both alone and with family and friends. So I hope the craze lasts a while, because I can't remember the last time – if ever - I've seen such a positive thing bring a community together (but you should still be smart about how you go about catching pokémon, because apparently not all interactions have been friendly and innocent.)
Readers, what are your thoughts on the Pokémon GO phenomenon? Are you trying to catch 'em all?