The Rhetoric of Pokémon Go

Names are important. In fact, I would argue that one of the factors in Pokémon’s success is in the names–basically all of them involve puns of some kind, and it adds a charm that other franchises haven’t really matched. When you hear the name “Charmander,” you know two things–it’s going to involve flames and be somewhat lizard-like. (There’s also a Western mythological layer in that salamanders often gained an association with fire or as spirits of fire, though I’m not sure how deep into mythology the naming process went.) “Pikachu” is a rodent-like creature that sneezes (electricity), Tangela is a tangled mass of vines, Ditto copies other Pokémon, and so on. They’ve been good about continuing this tradition ever since, though I’ll confess to mostly ignorance of anything past the second-generation Pokémon.

Last night my wife, dog, and I went to walk at the river. I was happy to see a lot of Water types down there–I caught a number of Magikarps and Slowpokes, as well as a few Psyducks–so I can harbor hopes of a Gyarados one day. But even more than that, I was surprised at just how many people we saw outside. On one end of the trail were three Pokéstops with a fourth fairly nearby, and about halfway down the trail were a gazebo and mini “Stonehenge” formation that were Pokéstops quite close to each other. The latter were especially busy with people–the gazebo benches entirely full, and large clumps of others milling around outside, Lure Modules on both stops to keep the Pokémon coming. This to me is one of the strangest but coolest things about the game–it’s transforming where people are and how they’re out interacting with others. We didn’t talk much to people, but there was a group of guys out with their dog that ours just had to meet, so we briefly spoke with them.

But to the main point I wanted to make: Lure Modules are simply named–they’re not “Pokélures” as I keep wanting to call them, or anything more complicated than that. But it definitely makes you wonder when reading the name if Niantic understood what they were doing with names. Do they lure wild Pokémon to the location? Absolutely. But just as much they’re also luring people, and that’s just as interesting.

Pokéstops Everywhere

One of the big questions I have is how is this game affecting businesses that find themselves identified by the game.

So Pokémon Go seems to have taken the country by storm (at least for those 30 and younger). I really do wonder if this is the signal of a paradigm shift when it comes to augmented reality–is this just what we can expect from life now? There are so many people playing and so many people talking about it and so many people using the Internet for this one purpose, and it’s so different from anything that’s taken hold in popular culture like this. Compared with, say, Angry Birds, it’s having tangible effects on people moving around and going to different places. Rather than gameplay being “available” anywhere, it requires you to be in various places for gameplay.

There are tons of questions to ask about this game, but one of the big questions I have is how is this game affecting businesses that find themselves identified by the game. I know the Firehouse Subs downtown is a Pokéstop, so it makes me wonder what the impact of something like that would have on a commercial business. (Churches and historical markers are another story altogether, but I may cover them at some point.)

On the one hand, this being a free app, just having trainers hunting for ‘mons doesn’t guarantee that they’re going to buy anything. You can see people at odd hours, and you might not be equipped for such traffic. For a restaurant, it’s going to be very frustrating if people stay beyond normal times just so they can catch more Pokémon or hit the Pokéstop a few more times.

On the other hand, this is free advertising for any business that gets tagged by it. People are going to be thinking of your store more often and around the area, and surely some of that foot traffic will turn into sales. I’m sure marketers would kill for this kind of exposure. It also makes me wonder if Niantic couldn’t make money from having sponsored Pokéstops or Gyms from businesses.

Anecdotally, it seems to be helping. I found this article suggesting that business try this out and see how many people they can get. Lures are going to be especially good at…well, luring trainers, and I sort of wonder if the name isn’t more apt for talking about the players rather than just the Pokémon.

Pokémon Go may actually be transforming the world. What crazy times in which we live.

A Foray into Pokémon Go

If you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go, it’s a digital app that uses your device’s GPS to map out your world and spawn Pokémon. You can visit different places to find additional items or different types of Pokémon, eventually battling other trainers at Gyms in your local area.

When I was younger, the first game I ever got for my GameBoy Color was Pokémon Red, my brother getting Blue at the same time. My fondest memory of that game is still battling him over link cable with a specially designed Chansey (Icebeam, Softboiled, Minimize, and one other ability that may have been Light Screen). See, Special wasn’t split into offense and defense, so that Chansey couldn’t die and did tons of damage with its one offensive ability.

“I just walked 4 blocks around my neighborhood [at 10 p.m.] looking for Pokémon.”

To be honest, I’d mostly forgotten about Pokémon Go. I’d heard about it ages ago, and the concept sounded really cool. What else could 10-year-old me have wanted in a game other than to actually go outside and find Pokémon?

“He asked me to take a walk with him. I knew in my heart it was so he could catch Pokemon ‪#‎wifeofanerd‬ ‪#‎pokemongo‬

My wife has been trying to make sure she at least walks every day at this point in her pregnancy, so I’ve been able to hatch an egg and find some new critters on our nightly walks (it’s mostly Rattatas, though). We were basically doing this anyway, but it’s added an incentive to visit the Pokéstops and hunt down side streets.

If you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go, it’s a digital app that uses your device’s GPS to map out your world and spawn Pokémon. You can visit different places to find additional items or different types of Pokémon, eventually battling other trainers at Gyms in your local area. Even better, it’s completely free, aside from whatever data you use and how quickly you’ll burn through your batteries.

I haven’t gotten too far into the game yet; I’ve evolved a couple and caught maybe 25 or so, just hitting level 5 today and qualifying to be able to go to Gyms. I haven’t actually visited any of those yet, so I don’t know what that experience will be, but I’ve also been discussing it with a lot of people. It seems almost universal in my age bracket that people like it, but I’ve also seen a lot of high schoolers involved with it as well.

Tonight, I found a Pidgey with a Combat Power of 77. That seems high–I think it’s the highest I’ve seen on one, though I’m not completely sure. Unfortunately, the one Pokéball I managed to land didn’t stick, and that was my last one. I need to hit some Pokéstops soon.

This post doesn’t have any really deep message or conclusions, but I am playing this game. It’s fun, and I think the concept is outstanding. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably having fun with it, too–unless you’re in one of the many countries of the world where it hasn’t released, which is most of them. My condolences to you.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with this–not my content.