Nov 172016

Rarely, I catch myself and wonder, why am I playing this game again?

It is not even a game. It is more of … a routine? A habit? A tic?

What is it?

Pokémon Go is a mobile device game by Niantic first published in July, 2016. It runs on (as far as I know) all Android and Apple devices. It utilizes GPS to track the user’s location in the real world, and sprinkles the world with a designed assortment of Pokémon capture opportunities. Some are simply not available where you are; you are going to have to move around to “win”. In some cases you are going to have to move quite far, there are a handful of Pokémon that are each only available on different continents.

Niantic has shown a readiness to update Pokémon Go, sometimes by adding new features (Buddy mode, where you “walk” with a favorite Pokémon) but also by removing features (such as the ability to play while in a car).

Niantic has also added at least one traditional MMO element – a special Halloween event where extra-spooky Pokémon were distributed everywhere with much greater frequency than usual.

Imagine that you have a die with 150 sides. Now roll it, and remember what you rolled. Now roll it again, and see if you roll the same number or higher.

Now imagine a vast system of statistics accumulators that keep track of what you rolled and whether you made the second roll. And a success counter that shows how many times you’ve succeeded at re-rolling that particular number.

Every die roll, saved forever, and compared to every other die roll.

And that is, essentially, Pokémon Go. Except there are various anime creatures that represent each number, and there are a (very) small number of actions you can take with your anime number. Very small. Actually, two. Two actions.

  • You can trade an anime number in for an extra success counter.
  • You can trade a bunch of success counters in to upgrade your anime number. You can only do this sometimes, not all anime numbers allow this action.

And you can look at all of the anime numbers you’ve successfully rolled, so if that counts, there are three things.

Oh, I nearly forgot a fourth action, there are also competitions where you show your collection of re-rolled numbers to another player and see who’s numbers are higher.

So there you have it. Roll a number, re-roll it, accumulate with other times you’ve rolled that number, maybe trade up, and compare to other people’s numbers.

It is exactly that exciting.

Yet, I am still playing it, and have been for months. More, I’ve paid for the privilege of rolling those numbers. More than once!


Maybe it is the physical element? The game is played on a moving map of the real world and both the map and game update in real time. You have to be in certain places in order to encounter certain Pokémon, which complicates the die rolling part.

The game encourages movement, and has more than one way to give you credit for walking around in the form of even more anime numbers. Regardless of the usefulness of the reward, any encouragement to get up and walk is pretty cool if you are looking to reduce your sedentary tendencies. Which I am.

The Pokémon

The Pokémon themselves are drawn in a style that is designed to appeal to children.

Some are cute




Some are pretty




Some are more fearsome




Some make you wonder about their child-appropriateness




But most are them just weird




In some cases, very weird




If there is any one thing keeping me playing, it probably is this guy:




He is thoroughly lame in every way, not helpful when competing with other players, just a sad flopping pile of uselessness. He is also supposed to be common, so common that you need 400 of those success counters to trade him up.

But when you do trade him up you get a dragon, a rare dragon that is not available in most locations and in fact, I’ve never even seen.

Someday that dragon will be mine!

But is it fun?

I don’t know, maybe it is sort of fun? It has given me something to do during times when I previously did nothing – while walking to my office from my car, while taking a non-smoking break*, while walking back to my car – so one can play it for free, in that it takes no additional time that I would rather expend doing something else.

And I am pretty pleased with myself for making sure I really do take a non-smoking break once or twice a day, and that I am spending that time walking.

Does “being pleased with oneself” count as fun? It’s certainly a positive; I’ll take it.

Getting that stupid dragon will probably be fun. Even if it will be the stupidest thing I have ever done that I am also proud to show. The very stupidest.

Paying, Or Not

One can download the game for free, and play it for free too; no one is required to spend anything.

But you need these things called “Pokéballs” in order to roll your numbers. And I keep using them up. You can get more, for free, by visiting “Pokéstops”, but there are no Pokéstops in the rural area where I live, and I don’t have that kind of patience anyway. I want all of the Pokéballs I need, all the time, and that requires buying them.

For real money.

Which I’ve done several times.

There are other micro-transactional things you can buy. The ability to carry more things, “lures” that cause more Pokemon to appear in one place, “incense” that causes more Pokemon to appear near you, that sort of thing.

Not for me though, I am good with just the Pokéballs. Although I seem to need a lot of them.

And In The End

I started playing Pokémon Go because I was curious – why is everyone so entranced? Why does anyone over the age of 13 care? What is up with the weird slash over the letter “é” ?

The game was enormously successful when it first launched, I used to see other people playing everywhere, all the time, but no more. The kids that this game is built for have already played it out and moved onto other things. The young adults that mobbed it when it first launched – reminded of their own youths when Pokémon was all the rage? – are done too, for the most part. As far as I can tell.

Maybe I am the only one still playing, anywhere.

That’s okay with me. I’m still enjoying the walking, and having a reason/reminder to walk is a plus.

Whether it’s fun or not.

I am pretty sure it is fun. Only slightly more fun than just walking, just barely, but still, enough.

Plus I want that dragon.

🙂 😀 🙂

* When I was a smoker, I’d stop working every hour or two for a smoke break and stand around outside. Now that I’ve quit, I catch myself spending hours and hours in the same position, staring at a screen without interruption. I fear I will ossify: remembering to take non-smoke breaks is the only defense I have.

  6 Responses to “A Poorly-Timed Review of Pokémon Go (From Someone Too Old To Be Playing Anyway)”

Comments (6)
  1. You’ve just written down everything I think/feel about Pokémon Go.

    And yes – I am still playing it

    And yes – I’m still trying to get my dragon

  2. I haven’t been playing much lately, and the few times I’ve tried to log in, I haven’t been able to get on. But I’m not going to uninstall it. Yes, it IS fun. Why? If you’re enjoying yourself, why ask why?

    I like that the game encourages you to get out and get moving. And even though at this point it’s a solo affair, I love the sociability.

    The main intersection in downtown Williamsport has Little League statues at all four corners. Three of them are designated PokeStops. Back when the game was still fairly new, and even now when someone’s set out a lure module, you can see all sorts of people – young, old, fat, thin, male, female, non-binary, all colors – hanging out together, comparing their Pokémon, and generally having a good time.

    We need more of that, especially now… maybe if I can get the game to boot, I’ll drop a lure module there during my travels today.

  3. Aside from the fact my device can’t run this, and I’ve had friends try to get Pokeball credit out of my as if they’re some sort of addicts looking for a hit … I’m sure this is just as fun as any other game 🙂

    Someone buy Bob a phone that was made in the last decade? Gotta catch ’em all!®

  4. I used to love the Pomémon universe (I still do, I just don’t keep up with it). I didn’t get into Pokémon Go because my phone battery dies fast enough already. If I did play, Team Instinct for the win. But my friends still play every once in a while. Anyhow, from what I hear, it did more than just get people outside. This game gave kids in the spectrum a topic to talk about with all the neighbourhood kids that all of then are interested in.

  5. I’ve never been into Pokemon, but I got the app before my kids did, and I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve paid for Pokeballs, too. 🙂 I just like trying to collect them and level myself up by evolving Pidgey incessantly.

What do you think?

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