Do people still play that? It's a question I get a lot, particularly if I'm ranting about a Gible to some confused friends or for some reason telling the checkout person at the grocery store that there's a Raid Hour today, and they should really go, it's fun. That's because almost everyone knows about Pokémon GO, on some level: the thing basically took over the world in the summer of 2016 to the point where the presidential candidates had to make cringey jokes about it, but it seemed to disappear from the popular consciousness soon after that. The game had a ton of problems at launch, and we don't need to get back into that. Pokémon GO just had its best month since September of 2016. At this point, it doesn't look like that's going to slow down anytime soon. Yes, people still play Pokémon GO. You should too.
I hesitate to say that Pokémon GO is unrecognizable from its launch state because that's not really true. The core concept that lit the world on fire back in 2016 remains intact: there are Pokémon in the world, you can catch them. That's it. That's all you need to get started. What the game has now is an answer for what happens after that, and the answer is: a whole lot. We have a tracker that lets you see where nearby Pokémon are located so you can break off your path to go find them, we have a buddy system that lets you evolve that special creature you happened upon the other day and haven't seen since. We have a weather system that spawns water-types when it rains and fire-types when the sun is shining. We have an adventure sync system that counts your steps even when you're not playing, whether that's on a leisurely walk or on a treadmill at the gym. We have hundreds of new, weird creatures living in our world, ready to be discovered, ready to have Instagram-ready pictures to be taken with enhanced camera tools.
That's the game, and the game either interests you or it doesn't. But it's the social aspects that make this into something different, an experience worth it even if you don't know Pikachu from Politoad. We have Raids that let you meet up with friends and strangers to battle powerful Pokémon, we have a friend, trading and battling system that gives you something to do with the trainers you meet out on your travels. We have Community Days, Raid Days, Raid Hours and other special events, limited-time bonuses that push millions of people into the streets at the same time, creating a festival atmosphere where you can see that random group of people with power cords trailing from their phones down to a battery pack in their pocket and know that you're in it together, even if you don't even speak to them. There are not many experiences like this in the world, and they are valuable where they are found. They are found constantly in Pokémon GO.
I can't give you any demographic information about the people I see playing Pokémon GO in Philadelphia--admittedly, it's an exceptionally good city to play in. You need a smartphone, so that does nix a certain percentage of the population right there. But after that, it's everyone: professionals, kids, die-hard Pokémon fans and retirees. I see people that might need to scrimp to get some extra raid passes and others wearing shoes easily worth a thousand super incubators, high-powered lawyers that defer to an 18-year old kid because that kid is level 40. I see people that come stacked with a collection of 100 IV Shiny legendaries and others that are just happy to get a flower crown Eevee. I see whole communities of people, thousands strong, that want nothing more than for everyone else in the community have a good time and maybe pick up a Carnivine on their trip to Virginia because we don't have that up here. You're never alone when you travel with Pokémon GO: just find a Raid.
The other week, I was gearing up for my normal weekend routine: children's museums and parks, mostly, because that's what it is to have a toddler. Which is totally fine, and would have been great. Instead, I saw a news item that I had missed earlier: an ultra-rare Pokémon was going to be available in Washington D.C. for the Pokémon World Championships. The hell with it, we said: D.C. is just a two and half hour drive from Philadelphia, so we drove on down. We saw some friends I haven't seen in ages, we got ice cream and swam in a hotel pool, we saw some monuments and thousands of like-minded Pokémon trainers swarming the streets and bought a Flareon plush. And I caught Relicanth, though at that point it almost felt incidental. We had a blast.
This is what Pokémon GO is. It's a little push. A push to go somewhere you might not have otherwise, a push to walk instead of drive. A push to talk to someone that you might not have otherwise, a push to head out of the house at 6:00 PM on a Wednesday because you want a Shiny Rayquaza. You can do as much or as little with it as you want, but once you start playing it's always there, in your pocket, reminding you that there are small and large adventures to be had at every moment.
Technology gives us new lenses on the world, and in the age of social media it's easy to think that most of these lenses are sort of crap, new ways to see the worst of those around us. Pokémon GO shows us the best in the world and the people in it. You should play Pokémon GO if you're feeling bad; you should play Pokémon GO if you're feeling good; you should play Pokémon GO.