August 28, 2016

SCHULMAN | Confessions of a Pokemon Master

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Happy Monday Cornell! If the semester’s first Monday has got you down, you can always think about your summer. Everyone has fun stories about their summer! I know I do; this summer I became a Pokemon master — a “Pokemon Go” master.

If you haven’t heard of Pokemon Go, chances are you don’t have cell service under that rock you can’t play the game under. Pokemon Go is like being a Pokemon trainer in real life, if being a Pokemon Trainer consisted of staring at your phone and tripping over things. The game consists of exploring a virtual world superimposed on the real one using your phone’s GPS chip.

Pokemon Go got people talking about augmented reality — overlaying the real world with a virtual one. But, I think Pokemon Go isn’t a lesson in augmented reality. Pokemon Go succeeded because it brings people together.

Technology gets a rap for promoting antisocial behavior and I understand why. However, the most rewarding experiences I’ve had with technology involve other people. Pokemon Go leverages the social aspect of technology. That is the secret to Pokemon Go’s success.

Pokemon Go leveraged the fact that technology isn’t used in a vacuum. Within a week, Pokemon Go had more downloads than Twitter. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know what sold me was watching other people play. I was blown away when my brother and I found four cars  parked at the town library, a Pokemon hotspot — two hours after the library closed. Sometimes there aren’t four cars in the lot when the library is open. You can only assume what was going on.

Playing Pokemon Go alone is actually a joyless grind. It is just a clone of Niantic’s first mobile game with Pokemon copy-pasted. It doesn’t do augmented reality well, but had a head start in the real world because of childhood nostalgia — there’s a reason Millennials make up the majority of players. Moreover, by trying to simplify Pokemon for casual players, Niantic, the game’s developer, made the game more confusing by leaving out key information. Understanding the game takes a few patient hours of trial and error.

However, Pokemon Go does a really good job encouraging players to meet each other. There are strength in numbers when battling Pokemon. Friends make finding rare Pokemon easier because you can split up to find them. Rare Pokemon are also more likely to spawn when you play with friends because of the game’s spawning algorithm. It’s also just more fun to play with other people. When you play with friends, you can climb waterfalls and have adventures.

Even though the game play is more repetitive than a Nickelback song, the way the game brings people together is really fun. There is something incredibly satisfying about seeing other people invested in the game. During one of my favorite moments playing the game, I didn’t even have the app open. At my local bank, a Pokemon gym, a car pulled up and five kids go out. They started frantically swiping their phones (The gesture for a pokemon battle), hi-fived each other and left — you can only imagine what they were doing. I was with my brother and we started laughing.

Pokemon Go’s lesson is that technology is social. Believe it or not, my computer science classes are always my most social. They inevitably require group work because dividing up the projects with friends is vastly easier, and more rewarding, than doing them solo. Wednesday night on my way home from class, I made friends with another Pokemon Go player. We were being discrete, but gave ourselves away through an interaction in the app. The way Pokemon Go, and technology in general, brings people together is key. That’s my schtick and I’m sticking too it! Stay tuned this semester for more.

Eric Schulman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Schulman’s Schtick appears alternate Mondays this semester.