When I was a lad, I would regularly beg my father to play multiplayer video games on my Amiga 500. I just couldn’t understand his repeated, polite declination; there were plenty of 2-player games to choose from, but he just never had the interest in gaming. I remember thinking that when I reached his age, my love of computer games would surely mean I’d be playing them with my future offspring.
Jump forward about 25 years and I’m in that position Dad was, time-limited in the evenings, not that interested in my sons’ games – despite enjoying Grand Theft Auto 5 recently – and instead looking for ways to get their faces out of screens and into the real world. Gaming itself has changed too, being much more mobile, sociable and convenient than late nights in darkened spare rooms playing alone. There seems little common ground.
That was until the recent launch of Pokémon Go, developed by a company part-owned by Nintendo and creating a storm as income from the game surged past £200m in the first 30 days. The mobile nature of the game however has created new, common interest between my 9-year-old son and myself as we battle to collect the little critters – essentially the cornerstone of the free-to-download game.
If you’re rolling your eyes at this point, thinking that this is merely another kids craze that the adults will eventually get the hang of, recent research from Forbes finds that 46% of players are aged between 18 and 29 and nearly half again earn over $50,000 per year. More tellingly, 63% of players are female.
Pokémon Go was described as the breakthrough augmented reality game, but to be clear, the AR is merely a side feature when you’re in the process of capturing Pokémon. It makes the common-or-garden Rattata or Pidgey appear to be sitting on the pavement or grass through your camera lens, giving them a pseudo-realistic look, not one that really engages AR to become a gaming feature. I agree that augmented and virtual reality will be an increasing theme in gaming – just consider the PlayStation VR, due this October – but it won’t be from Niantic’s creation.
Featuring lots of in-app purchase options, the game is certainly certainly about your location, requiring physical movement to different places to accomplish tasks or gain new inventory. Apart from meandering everywhere to stumble upon Pokémon, there are two places you can visit; a gym, where you can train your Pokémon or battle others, and a Pokéstop, essentially a free drop-in zone that gives away free power-ups and resets every 5 minutes. Both require you to be within a relatively close vicinity to be able to activate them.
But it’s the fun of playing the game with your children that was unexpected for me. It’s a perfect match; I have a smartphone, that my son doesn’t, and can’t really have (yet), and when driving or walking somewhere with him, he can operate the phone on my behalf to collect Pokémon. Suddenly, you’re talking capture, evolve and power-up strategies with your collection of pocket monsters, and tactics such as when to use Incense to attract Pokémon for 30 minutes or launch a Lure module at a Pokéstop to do the same. Car journeys are a good example; they can be lucrative to pick up more Pokémon or at least mine the many Pokéstops you’re bound to pass along the way, and my son takes pride in doing so.
Incidentally, running the app from within the car (by one of your passengers, not the driver of course) works well at speeds up to 30mph. You’ve got just enough time to find and capture Pokémon before they disappear, although this doesn’t work above urban speeds. Similarly when incubating eggs; slower drives seem to register some of your walk on the distance chart.
And when you get your phone back on arrival at your destination, your child proudly presents a slightly fuller Pokédex than it was before you left. No decisions in the game are now taken without his support or direction, and there’s plenty of opportunity for comedy too. I might just ask my Dad if he needs help too…