People are obsessed with Pokémon Go, the new augmented reality smartphone game that allows users to catch ’em all as they walk around. It’s only been a week since the game’s release, and it already has more active users than dating app Tinder.
Husbands are playing it while their wives give birth. Cops are playing it with kids. And I played it until 3 a.m. this Saturday night, giddily roaming the streets of Manhattan and hardly noticing stares from strangers when my friends and I screamed, out of nowhere, “IT’S AN ODDISH!” (We caught it.)
There’s a simple reason behind the game’s explosive popularity, and it’s not just nostalgia.
It’s straight-up dream fulfillment.
I don’t remember exactly how Pokémon came to infiltrate every aspect of my life in the late 1990s, when I was in elementary school. All of sudden Pokémon was there, and all of sudden I couldn’t imagine life without it. My brothers and I rushed home every day to watch the Pokémon cartoon after school. We rushed to recess armed with new Pokémon cards to trade. We populated our Christmas lists with Pokémon toys.
But no matter how many pieces of merchandise I got (and no matter how well I could recite the Pokémon rap), there was always something missing: I wanted to be a trainer for real. I ached to live in a world where I could skip out on school at age 10 and roam around the wilderness chasing adorable monsters, just like Ash Ketchum did. Instead, all I could do was roam around the backyard imagining there was a Jolteon at my side.
That’s where Pokémon Go comes in. Unlike the card game, the show, the toys, and the hours of make believe, this game comes shockingly close to fulfilling that dream of being a real Pokémon trainer. Now, just like I always imagined, I can round up my friends and set out on a Pokémon-hunting adventure. None of us knows which Pokémon we’ll encounter, which new places we’ll see, or what people we’ll meet.
No, the Pokémon aren’t actually real — but the game’s augmented reality interface makes it look like they’re right in our world. And yes, I still have to go to work every day — but even my commute can become a Pokémon hunt if I want it to be. (All it takes is a willingness to completely destroy my phone battery.)
I felt like I was seven years old again when I encountered this Dratini near my apartment building yesterday. Dratini used to be my favourite Pokémon card, the one I always placed on top of my deck before I secured the stack with a scrunchie and went out to trade on the playground.
Yesterday — almost 20 years later — I finally got to take it home in a Poké Ball.
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