Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why I'm Not Playing Pokemon Go (Like I Have To Have A Reason...)

Ravanel has a post up this morning about how much she wants to be playing Pokemon Go right now. At the end of the post she asks a couple of questions that started me thinking:

Did you grow up with Pokémon? And are you playing Pokémon Go?

Well, no I didn't. No, I'm not. Just like I'm neither interested in nor excited by news of yet another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers movie, the mere invocation of the Pokemon brand presses none of my buttons. Well, none of the appropriate ones.

You might assume that was an age thing, what with the fairly imminent approach of my sixtieth birthday, and to some extent it is. I was, after all, nearing forty years old when the first Pokemon appeared in 1995. There's more to it than that, though.

Not only does the franchise form no part of my personal lexicon of childhood or adolescent experiences but I can honestly say I barely even noticed it at the time. Yet it's not as though I wasn't culturally exposed, open even, to such things as they were happening.

Not a Pokemon
During the 1990s I was living day-to-day alongside three children, who were aged somewhere between five and thirteen when the game first appeared. I knew who Mario was. I actually saw the movie at the cinema. There was a SNES in the living room. I bought and played FFVII. Still, I have no memory of anyone I knew ever playing, wanting to play or even mentioning Pokemon.

For a long time I had it filed away in the back of my mind as something associated with Tamagochis, which were a big thing in our house for a while. And Furbys. We had both of those and I played with them and understood them. Pokemon - nothing.

I would have pretty much forgotten Pokemon even existed if it hadn't been for Wilhelm. Over the last few years reading TAGN has told me more about about Pokemon than I ever imagined I'd know. In the same way that reading countless reports on Minecraft has left me feeling I must have played the game in some other life, I have a ghostly, vestigial pseudo-memory of catching brightly colored cartoon creatures and setting them against others in fights that come freighted with queasily uncomfortable socio-historic subtext.

Mulling this over it seems to me that, while age has something to do with the extent and the specifics of involvement, which cultural phenomenon gets to sink its hooks into which person depends a lot more on personal experience than the number of candles on a birthday cake. My childhood was mainly in the 1960s and my adolescence in the 1970s but for some reason, although many of the cultural shibboleths and touchstones of those decades resonate strongly still, in my late fifties the decade whose cultural artifacts affect me most sentimentally in recall is probably the 1980s, the time when I became an independent adult.

I say "probably" because these things drift. In the mid-90s, when Pokemon was new, my call-backs were all to the seventies. In that I was dead in tune with the zeitgeist. Pokemon arrived in the white-heat of Britpop, that final spin of the thirteen-year cycle, which sought to magpie the best from the '60s and '70s and mosaic something bright and new out of the scraps. Now, a couple of decades on, the '90s themselves are beginning to acquire a soft, rose-hued glow.
Looks a bit more like one but still not a Pokemon.

Perhaps the nodal point of nostalgia always trails a generation behind. Maybe it takes twenty years to acquire the distance needed for flaws to fade and warmth to grow. maybe it's not so much how old you were then as how many years have passed.

But to trigger a wave of nostalgia or even simple recognition you have to have been paying attention the first time round and Pokemon passed me by. Instead of warm fuzzies I have cool, hard intellectual curiosity. Pokemon Go does look like an enjoyable game. More importantly it appears to be developing into a fascinating and potentially influential cultural phenomena.

There's a chance it could mark a fork in the cultural road the way Twitter or Facebook did. In a year or two Augmented Reality gaming could be as much a part of everyday life as tweeting or updating your profile (two things that once again I know only from hearsay). Or it could be languishing wherever fads like Farmville go to die.

Obviously not the latter. The immense strength of the Pokemon brand will sustain when the fickle attention of the global horde moves on. Pokemon will be with us forever, like every other cultural phenomenon that passes a certain, hard to define, watershed. If the name of Pikachu (still the only Pokemon I can recall with certainty) isn't up there with Dracula and Sherlock Holmes quite yet, it  soon will be.
Okay, these could be Pokemon...

I probably would be playing Pokemon Go along with everyone else right now, just to be part of the buzz, if it wasn't for one other thing: I don't own a mobile phone. Not just not a smart one, like Wilhelm. I don't even own a dumb one.

I have a blind spot about phones. I am fully and happily digitized. I have a houseful of PCs. I have old gaming systems from the 1980s tucked away in cupboards. I have an iPod and half a dozen tablets and use several of them daily but I have never owned a phone. I've never even had a landline in my own name.

And even if I did have a smartphone - and sooner or later I will almost certainly have to get one  because in five or ten years it's going to be next to impossible to function as an adult without one - I would not allow it to track my whereabouts, which as far as I can tell would pretty much drop a rock on the chances of chasing down Pokemons.

I don't have a valid argument for that - it just feels completely wrong so I'm not going to do it. Not until I do, naturally. Consistency, hobgoblin, you know the drill.

So there it is. Another cultural milestone missed. Can't hit 'em all.

All images borrowed from The Internet. Any rights holders unhappy about that just let me know and they're gone.


  1. I was the perfect age to be hit by the Pokemon craze, but... well, that's perhaps the problem.

    When first confronted by Pokemon, my seven year-old self's reaction was something along the lines of "Huh? That seems kind of dumb. I don't get it."

    But my friends, however, were instant fanatics. I mean a level of obsession even I find borderline excessive. They had the cards, the toys, the video games. Every car ride had the soundtrack to the movie blaring at unhealthy volumes. It was all they talked about, it consumed their every waking moment.

    So I became the unwilling participant in a kind of Pokemon immersion program, and a mild disinterest developed into a passionate hatred. Twenty years on I've finally stopped having Hannibal Lecter-esque fantasies involving Pikachu and fava beans, but I still wouldn't touch anything Poke-related with a ten foot pole.

    1. Heh! You must be having flashbacks right now. They're even talking about a new movie.

  2. My exposure to Pokemon came via my partner's daughter. That little girl put hundreds of hours into a Pokemon game on a DS and when somehow her save game became corrupted she was inconsolable.

    I have a smart phone but for the most part it remains in my pocket. I walk my dog every day and choose to stay focused on what she is doing and the world around me. My curmudgeonly-self harshly judges people who are more focused on the screen in their hand than they are in their environment.

    I kind of miss the days when folks would acknowledge each other when out in the world. Heck when I was younger and more prone to visiting drinking establishments, I'd seek out the ones that had no TV just because I hated out a TV shut down conversation in favor of staring at a screen.

    So I tried Pokemon Go when it hit but I just don't see much appeal in it. I'd rather listen to birds sing and watch lizards run for cover than walk around staring at my phone.

    1. You hit on exactly the problem I have with this whole phenomenon, namely why do people feel they need a phone app to go for a pleasant walk on a Summer's day? I walk a lot as a matter of course - I walk 20 minutes to work and 20 minutes back and my entire working day is standing or walking - and yet I still go out for walks for entertainment and amusement.

      That said, the idea of turning the real world into a fantasy is very appealing. Not sure catching Pokemon would do it for me but I can definitely imagine some ARG MMO-style questing catching my fancy.

    2. Since my initial response Angela lured me into Pokemon Go a little and I got kind of an idea of the appeal. But I swear the one time I played it while walking Lola, she looked at me reproachfully and didn't seem as happy. So that was pretty much that, but at least I now kind of get the pseudo-geo-caching fun aspect of "Let's walk over in that direction because there's a Pokemon over there."

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  3. I was sort of aware of Pokemon when it first came out, though I think I saw the cartoon on TV first, then the card game. The game only really came when my daughter and I were at Toys R Us and then had a Nintedo DS demo unit set up with Pokemon Diamond running and my daughter did not want to leave it. It was a top down exploration view, somewhat akin to Rogue I suppose, with an RPG element based on catching creatures. When it came time to take another long flight as a family, my wife sent me forth to purchase a DS for my daughter to entertain her, as the portable DVD player had died, and in picking games I picked out Pokemon Diamond. She didn't care about the other two titles, she just wanted to play Pokemon. In watching her, I could see the merits of the game and then I wanted to play Pokemon. And the rest is recorded on my blog... actually that bit is also there as well, somewhere in 2007.

    Right now, with my dumb mobile phone, I feel like saying, "I'll be over here in the corner playing Pokemon on my 3DS like a NORMAL Pokemon fanatic!" Heh!

    1. My step-brother wanted to buy my mother a 3DS a few years ago so she could play some game he thought she'd like. Just as well she wouldn't let him or who knows where it might have led...

  4. (MrrX here. Having trouble commenting.)

    "There's a chance it could mark a fork in the cultural road the way Twitter or Facebook did."

    I'm pretty sure that's where we're at. I could always be wrong, but just the mass of people playing Pokemon argues otherwise. Let's see how many are still playing in September.

    And part of me is laughing my ass off at being in with this group of bloggers who are worse curmudgeons/luddites than I am myself. Never did I imagine myself as the guy pushing the boundaries, but here it is. OMG.

    1. Yes, everyone has trouble commenting here now - even me. I might have to go back to one of Blogger's recommended layouts and see if that fixes it.

      I can't see Pokemon Go persisting past the Fall at longest - the weather will put paid to it in a lot of places, although possibly not in California where you are.

  5. PokeGone T-shirts.

    Those, and some game shops/conventions banning Pokemon CCG players during the height of the craze is pretty much all I remember from the 90's craze (CCG players were banned aswhile they brought in a lot of business, they too often were even worse than MtG players in at best crowding out other customers and at worse getting voilent with each other over cards).

    It's funny how a 'Revenge of the Nerds' of sorts has taken place: now 'normals' are glued to a computer/smartphone, for even longer periods, and even more dependant on it. It did make the train more quite again, though .

    You're not alone in not having a mobile phone, I don't have one either. It started out because I do not want to be potentially at beck-and-call 24/7 (sure you can put it off but then people ask why you put it off during daylight hours etc.) but with all the tracking software, cookies and what not I try to cling to the tattered remnants of privacy as long as I can.

    1. We run MTG events in the bookshop where I work - you can say a lot of things about Magic players but I don't think we've ever had a fight.

      There's a school of thought that suggests the generation that's currently wiling to give away every scrap of personal information for the sake of constant connectivity will be spearheading a privacy backlash in a decade's time. We'll see. I suspect privacy of the kind you and I are comfortable with will come to be seen as a strange affectation in anyone under retirement age.

  6. Finally wrote my reply to this. Decided to stick to tradition and make it a blog post. :)

  7. Pokémon, furbies and tamagotchi all passed me by. I remember some of the younger kids were into this stuff while I was busy exploring the first IRC chats on the early internet and playing psone games. ;)

    That said, I get the PGo fascination. It is a simple yet fun idea, far from completely innovative but brought together in a mainstream way thats very atypical for this IP. The game was obviously not made by Nintendo but the fact that they allowed their IP to go this way, on non-Nintendo hardware and for free (is the world coming to an end??), is rather copernical.

    Am watching the craze from afar, slightly amused and sometimes greatly entertained by its most extreme by-products - such as people getting robbed or falling down cliffs while catching virtual critters. Darwin has his hands full with this one! :P

    1. Spotted the first Pokehunters in our bookshop yesterday. When the game officially releases in the UK I'll probably try it on wifi - I quite fancy wandering round the various free wifi areas near me on my lunch hour. As for the "letting the world know your exact location" - I have a plan for that...

  8. I dont play it either. I dont like manga styled stuff but I think the idea is great. I prefer to play ESO atm and leave my Samsung Note 4 in my bag:)

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