Pokemon GO(ing down)

This may or may not be another controversial comment on my part. Either way, they’re my opinions on why Pokemon GO has probably peaked and won’t see anywhere near their huge rates of play again.

First, the game was very much a beneficiary of the bandwagon effect. It easily would not have been as popular if it were just based on individuals taking to themselves, but with public spaces with multiple stops having from tens to hundreds of people hanging around, talking in groups about their Pokemon and what they were seeing, and some people getting into it having never played any Pokemon game before because their cousins, siblings, children were. But that’s a scary marker if you’re interested in longevity – crazes end fairly quickly, and Pokemon GO’s certainly has.

Second, the game is having trouble even with users who at least were fairly dedicated previously, as the lack of promised features like tracking make finding rare Pokemon much more difficult. The existence of PokeVision made life easier for a lot of people – they would be able to search their areas for the rare Pokemon they saw on the broken tracking feature, and then go out to find it. Yet Niantic has requested these third party groups to take down websites like these, to “prevent cheating.” Given there is no real high-risk/reward competition in Pokemon GO (the design of gyms causes them to change hands incredibly frequently), cheating is fairly irrelevant in any case.

My last point is that Niantic doesn’t seem as capable to efficiently handle these issues and push past their scheduled releases. The Buddy system was apparently released yesterday (though I don’t seem to have it active on my phone yet), but the majority of users are still without a tracking feature – something that has been an issue since two weeks out of the game’s release. Given that it’s been now two full months and they still haven’t implemented their fix universally, and have had the third party workarounds for it shut down, it almost feels like they don’t care. I won’t say that’s true, but with something that increased so much in size and was instantly profitable, it surprises me that they didn’t allocate more resources to have more timely releases for fixes, etc.

I won’t say that I don’t like the game. I do, and my hours and hours of play time can attest to that. I wouldn’t have gotten all the way to level 22 without enjoying it, but it is frustrating trying to be patient with a game that isn’t necessarily broken but is certainly not complete. When Niantic fixes the game, I’ll probably come back and put many more hours into it, but until then I’ll be another user that’s moving further and further from the game.

Pokemon Go Ruined Pokemon for Me

As a young child, I was part of the generation that was swept up with the original Pokemon. I had dozens of cards which I kept pristine in a collectors book, and I had tiny little action figures of Ash and Misty which I played with while I cuddled with Togepi, a stuffed version of an egg creature from Pokemon, who trilled when squeezed.

(photo credit: amazon.com)

I was obsessed with Pokemon, but there was one problem, I was not allowed to watch it. My parents were very strict about what I was allowed to watch, and Pokemon did not make the cut as it held no educational value. So I played with the merchandise but never saw the original source, and as time went on, I moved on to other toys.

Fast forward over a decade later, and I read an article about a new Pokemon game coming to my phone, where I can catch Pokemon in real life! I downloaded it as soon as it was available, and I was overwhelmed with nostalgia as I watched the Pokeball bounce around on the loading screen. I was a bit nostalgia-drunk from the experience, and realizing that I am now an adult who can do whatever I like (haha not really), I decided to finally watch the original show that had been banned to me all those years ago. Netflix had caught on the trend so the entire original series was available to watch on the platform. So I popped some popcorn and settled in for what I expected to be a pleasant experience dripping with nostalgia. As the title song played, I nodded along smiling. As the show progressed, the smile slowly faded, and even nostalgia could not save it.

I hated it. That’s right. I hated the show. The Pokemon were extremely cute, but I could not help but cringe as they were forced to fight each other, often resulting in an injury severe enough to land them in a Poke-Hospital. These cute little creatures were captured only after they had been weakened by battle, and they sat in a Pokeball until the Pokemon master let them out to fight other Pokemon. If these had been animals, I would have called the police for animal cruelty. Indeed, what I felt like I was watching was the equivalent of cartoon dog fights. Even though it was entirely fictional, I couldn’t help but feel sick on how the Pokemon were treated, and how they still were so loyal to the person who captured them.

I cried watching the show. Yes I admit it. It may seem ridiculous, but this scene (starting at 8:45) had me balling like a baby. I quit watching the show soon after.

The Pokemon Go game lost all appeal to me soon after. I admired the concept, but every time I caught a Pokemon, I saw poor Charmander desperately trying to keep his flame dry while waiting in the rain for the master who abandoned him (if Charmander’s flame goes out he dies). So ended my love affair with Pokemon, my quest for nostalgia brought on by Pokemon Go only lead to pain and disappointment.


Pokémania: 1998-2016… and beyond?

With the release of Pokémon Red and Blue in the United States in 1998, “Pokémania” swept the nation. The video games, the anime, the board games, the Pokémon stuffed toys and action figures, the licensed Pokémon cups and bowls and macaroni and cheese – the craze lasted into the early 2000s as Pokémon movies saw release in theaters. As with any sudden pop culture craze, many parents were suspicious of the influence these popular monsters might have on their children. As Times reporters Howard Chua-Eoan and Tim Larimer wrote in 1999, “the key principle of the Pokeocracy is acquisitiveness… And never underestimate a child’s ability to master the Pokearcana required to accumulate such power: the ease with which they slip into cunning and thuggery can stun a mergers-and-acquisition lawyer.” Others expressed fears that Pokémon were demonic, especially psychic-types like Kadabra. And who can forget the debate over whether the Pokémon Jynx represented racist blackface?

Chua-Eoan and Larimer’s article focuses on other concerns of the parents of the 90s. Though the writers expressed discomfort at the way child players have adapted to the technology – “seven-year-olds navigate unerringly through the miniscule screen that is the porthole to Pokedom, punching two tiny buttons and a cross-shaped cursor bar to find their way. It’s a much difficult task for adults” – their prime criticisms focused on the obsession that the game engenders in its players. Creator Satoshi Tajiri is described as having “obsessions, more dysfunctional than Disneyesque.” His early passion for arcade games made his parents worry that he’d become a “delinquent,” and he and his likeminded friends are called “junkies” as they start to build what would eventually become a multimillion dollar franchise. This wording reflects the concerns that many parents had: that Pokémon would convert their child into an obsessive, video-game-playing shadow of who they once were. But don’t worry, Chua-Eoan and Larimer wrote – “parents who have had to suffer through the games, the TV series and shopping trips can take some comfort in the fact that the Pokemon demographic is the same one that has abandoned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.” Pokémon never disappeared from the pop culture and video game scene – a gigantic version of franchise mascot Pikachu graces the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to this day – but it did, at least, leave the limelight.


Pikachu continues to loom over Americans. Source: the Macy’s Day Parade Wiki. 

Until July of 2016, when Pokémon Go was released. Pokémania was back.


Taking control of a gym. Screenshot of Pokémon Go gameplay from Niantic.

Created by Niantic, the smartphone game utilized augmented reality to place pokémon in the world around gamers and to turn local landmarks into Pokéstops where you can get items. You walk down to the corner store, spin an icon marking at as a Pokéstop, and get items: cool! You swipe to catch an Eevee: neat! You power up your monsters and battle hundreds of other players in your area to claim victory for your team and establish dominance for your team: rad! The simplified mechanics of the game, streamlined for mobile playing, irritated some longtime Pokémon fans used to the more complex battling system of the GameBoy and DS games, but generally it seemed like a cute, inoffensive game that encouraged people to go outside. What was the harm?

But just like the original Pokémania, the game set off another storm of controversy. This time, unlike the original Pokémania, critique focused largely on the actual g ameplay mechanics: the smartphone game was allegedly making players (a large portion of which being adults who had played the original Pokémon) inattentive to the world around them, it was a foolish waste of time, it encouraged players to trespass and drive recklessly, and – just like the original criticisms – it was a point of obsession. Click here to view a cartoon  by Polish artist Pawel Kuczynski that expresses many of the critiques of the game. I’m sure we’ve all seen the many Facebook posts from older relatives or people uninterested in video games elaborating on their disdain for the whole phenomenon.

And while a large amount of the Pokémon Go hype has faded by now, the game continues strong, with active players across the world and large content and gameplay updates planned for the future. Further, with the next generation of the handheld console games – Pokemon Sun and Moon – planned for a November 2016 release, Pokemon may stay in the news in the near future. What is it about the Pokémon franchise that stirs such strong emotions in supporters and critics alike – its popularity, the perceived childishness of the game? Or is its criticism not at all unique – what larger cultural contexts drive these criticisms? Setting aside the very real issues of safety (such as playing Pokémon Go while driving), are the criticisms of the game the same hostility that video games as a medium face, or is the augmented reality aspect of the game a special marker that sets its cultural response apart from other games?

Augmented Reality: The Postmodern Literature?

Photo from: Niantic.com


If you have found this blog, and you have no idea what this could be about, note that I’m in a course that discusses the ideas of the new media and its connection to literature. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be enrolled in the course to understand what I will be discussing. It seems that everywhere we “Go” (yes, that was a pun) there are new ways in which technology has submersed itself into our own lives. It allows us to be involved in both real-world and fictitious experiences. Essentially, it can be used for practical and recreational reasons. What I’m specifically referring to here, and you probably have caught on based on the title, is a relatively new technological innovation called augmented reality. If your not to familiar with what this is, Merriam Webster defines it as, “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera); also :  the technology used to create augmented reality.”

Referring back to the pun earlier, the most common augmented reality around right now is this game called, Pokémon Go. Developed by Niantic. As the definition stated, it pretty much overlays cartoon characters (Pokémon) and one tries to catch the Pokémon with a ball hat the user throws onto the Pokémon. This would be an example of  AR-technology that would be used for recreational purposes.

So what does this say about the way we spend our time. More specifically, I’m discussing how what once was a big book reading world, we now have a very involved technological world. With this new AR invention, does his mean the end for formal literature as we know it. Let’s look at the comparisons. Most books have an exposition, plot and conclusion while video games do as well, including AR. Moreover, books have been a way for anyone to escape to a far away or fictitious land with sometimes  vivid characters. In Pokémon Go, there is the same thing, except a much diminished struggle for the use of imagination. There is still plot and what not, except that not only is it visual, you also have choices. As discussed in our class, this question was brought up: “What choices to we really have when reading a book?” I mean, we could read the book backwards, or read subsections or chapters out of order- but that is really it. This AR experience seems to take it one step further and gives the “reader” (really user) the ability to change the course of the plot by the decisions they make. A regular book does not do that.

It will be interesting to see what the next big interactive technology platform will be. Certainly, we can expect to be even more involved in the plot of whatever comes out next.

Ready or not…

To be honest, this isn’t my first choice (Harry Potter) or even my second (Pokemon), nor is it even something I would choice at all.  But it would be interesting, that’s for sure.

I like zombies.  My friends and I, back home, knew exactly what we would do in case of a zombie apocalypse.  Ian would drive to my house in his pick-up truck, bringing various supplies including his machete.  Michael would do the same, zipping down the less popular (and thus less travelled) back roads with his Louisville Slugger. We meet up, I get Ian’s machete in addition to my own, and he takes my hand axe.  Michael and I hop in my car (2002 coupe Audi TT, outfitted for the track), and Ian takes the lead, blasting any zombies out of our way in his truck, again, down a pre-chosen route of back roads.  We head north, picking up Ronnie on the way, who has taken advantage of the extra time and isolation (he lives in the middle of nowhere, relative to us) to pack more substantially.  He has his 8 person tent, impressive first aid kit, and many other essentials all in three separate piles, ready for our backpacks, his own already packed.  He too will have his bat ready and will be on the roof, looking for our approach and acting as lookout as Ian, Michael and I pack and go over our mental checklists, insuring nothing is forgotten.  Michael now joins Ian in the truck and Ronnie and I follow in the TT as our little caravan makes its way north, a list of survival stores as our targets.  Depending on what our radios tell us, we make our next move.  If the situation seems to be under control (or as under control as a zombie apocalypse can be), or appears to have an end in the very near future, we hole up at the first store on our list that hasn’t been looted and is zombie free.  If things appear grim, we gather as many supplies (guns, ammo, outdoor living supplies) as we can, we head north, and we don’t stop.

Think we’ve put too much time and thought into this? We probably have.  The odds of a zombie apocalypse are astronomical.  And we don’t anticipate one.  It’s just fun.  That’s why I’m choosing the world of Left 4 Dead.  If there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse, we better pray for slow zombies.  Smart zombies?  Fast ones?  No thank you.  And again, I wouldn’t willingly walk into a world where I’m almost certainly going to be torn limb from limb and devoured, where nearly everyone I ever knew is dead, but it’s interesting to me.

And if the zombies do come?  I’ll be ready.

Deathly Hallowed

He clearly didn't have a plan...

If only I could catch them all

I roll out of bed whenever I feel like—no essays or exams to worry about. Not even school to worry about. I don’t write so good, but who cares. I turn on the TV and the 365 day forecast for my town is seventy degrees and sunny. I go downstairs, say hello to my loving mother, and walk out my front door. Today’s activity, and every other beautiful days’ activity: catch some Pokemon. It’s just another day in the life in the Pokemon world.

I walk to the nearest grassy area, walk back and forth and run into a Pokemon. It’s just a level 6 Sandshrew, but I want one for my pokedex, so I take out my Alakazam and put it to sleep so I can capture it. If I want a little bit more of a challenge, maybe I’ll go to the power plant and try and maybe catch a glimpse of a Zappados. One day, I hope to fight in a gym and get a badge. One day.

Pallet town a bit too slow today? No problem. I’ll just whip out my level 89 flying Charizard, using one of the many technological advances that makes my life so easy—a pokeball, and I’ll be off to Vermillion city in no time. Too lazy to walk to the corner store? No problem. I’ll just take out my full sized bicycle which fits every so compactly into my tiny backpack, and head on over. Or maybe I’m in the mood for the lull of the perfectly blue waves and the caress of the soft ocean breeze. No problem. I’ll just hop onto the back of my level 64 Lapras and surf my way to tropical relaxation.

Life on Pokemon Earth is pretty easy. Because society revolves around Pokemon—the study, capture, and sport—citizens of Pokemon Earth take care of their environment and the natural habitats of the Pokemon. There is no factory pollution or gas guzzling vehicles ruining the ozone. Additionally, the advanced technology makes life much easier. People can store Pokemon on computers, use anti-gravity machines, teleport places, clone Pokemon, and even heal Pokemon instantaneously. (People could also be healed if they ever became sick or hurt, but they never are.) If I had to choose one video game world to live in, it would definitely be the world of Pokemon.


A Whole New World.

My favorite game of all time?  Not an easy choice.  My current favorite, FIFA, immediately came to mind.  There are not many better feelings than curling a free kick past your opponent’s goalkeeper and then doing a backflip in front of thousands of screaming fans to celebrate.  The added satisfaction of playing against one of your friends and beating them while talking trash the entire game is hard to beat.

However, as awesome as it is to relive my glory days as a 3rd grader dominating my AYSO league, one game stands above the rest when considering what game is truly my favorite.  Two words: Pokemon Red.  I cannot even remember how many times I have made it all the way to the end and beaten the Elite Four, and it is still just as gratifying as it was the first time.  As a trainer I felt deeply connected to my Pokemon, and each battle we won brought us closer together.  I will never forget my very first Pokemon, a precocious little fire-breather named Charmander.  We went through so much together: our first battle, our first badge, and eventually we became champions.

Not only did the companionship provided by the game hold me captive but also the sense of accomplishment I felt as I earned each of the eight badges truly enthralled me.  The badges made me stand out among all the trainers as someone to be both feared and respected.  Paired with the high levels of my Pokemon, those badges gave me a sense of power and importance that I had never felt before in any other game.  With the guidance of the trustworthy Professor Oak I quickly filled up my Pokedex, capturing every Pokemon that crossed my path.  I even managed to catch the legendary birds of Kanto, Moltres, Zapdos, and Atricuno, which only fueled my addiction.

No game has ever captured my attention quite like Pokemon has.  Although many different versions have been made, RED has been and always will be my favorite, as it introduced to the wonderful world of Pokemon.  The fantasy world filled with hundreds of exciting new animals paired with the captivating series of challenges make the game what it is for me to this day, my favorite game of all time.

George de Roziere

What’s the deal with LOTRO cutscenes?

by Theo Dentchev

LOTRO starts off with some beautiful looking graphics, and a cutscene in which Gandalf sits at a fire smoking some pipeweed, telling you a story. Good stuff right?

And then you start playing the game.

In the first cutscene you encounter you’re most likely going to miss at least the first few lines of dialogue before you even realize that you’re in a cut scene. Why, you ask? Because the “cutscene” is just in game characters with text above their heads or in the text box at the bottom left of the screen. Don’t get me wrong, the in game graphics are really nice, great colors, good animations. But they’re in game graphics. Would it have been too much to ask for some cinema-like cutscenes? Or at least some sound instead of having to read dialogue. I mean, using in game graphics makes it so that at times it is difficult to notice immediately that someone else has started talking, and by the time you look to see the text above their head they’re already on to the next sentence. You could of course look at the text box in the bottom left, but then you miss whatever limited visual action might be going on. All in all this provides for a relatively poor form of storytelling.

Then again, maybe I’m just biased. I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the text based rpgs of the early days of gaming. In fact, the issue of my age is compounded by the fact that I didn’t really start playing video games (outside of pokemon on the gameboy color) until 2003 – very recently. And even then I didn’t really play rpgs as much as I did action-adventure games. So I am accustomed to playing games where the cutscenes are cinematic and the characters actually talk. I guess both styles of story telling (cinematic cutscenes and in game cutscenes) provide the same information, and you could understand the story equally well either way, but the presentation makes a huge difference. I will be better able to appreciate a story which I can enjoy and which is easy to follow.

I’m no game designer and have no idea of how difficult it must be, but would it really be that much harder to incorporate cinematic cutscenes into MMOs? Even if it is harder than doing for console games, games like LOTRO are supposed to have a strong focus on storytelling, so wouldn’t it be worth the effort to tell the story better? It would enhance the entire experience of the game, making it more immersing and engaging.

– TD

P.S I just realized that I haven’t gotten very far into the game, and it is still entirely possible there will be other cinematic cutscenes in the future. However, I still condemn the lack of such cutscenes in general, and the use of in game cutscenes instead.