As the moon reaches its zenith in the sky and the crickets provide a soundtrack to the otherwise lonely night, cars can be seen slinking through neighborhoods at a steady five miles per hour. The sudden illumination of brake lights alludes to one and only one thing: a wild Pokémon has appeared.
On July 6, the world as we knew it ceased to exist as Niantic, an American software company operating out of San Francisco, released Pokémon Go in the United States. What began as hushed rumors about an elusive new application (app), available for both iOS and Android devices, quickly evolved into a worldwide phenomenon, captivating its players one PokéBall at a time.
While some only became aware of the game upon its release, others waited eagerly in anticipation of its arrival. “I actually heard about the game months before it came out,” sophomore Manuel Chavez said. “I had a couple friends who mentioned it to me, but I had no idea what it was. So I looked into it and thought, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’ so I was just waiting and waiting as the months went by. When it [finally] came out, I was all around my city, walking around playing it.”
However, long-time fans of the Pokémon franchise possessed some skepticism. Pokémon was intrinsically linked with the lives of the children raised in the 90s, whether on television, through the trading card game or simply across the Nintendo platforms. “To be honest, at first [when] I heard it was out, I kind of didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon,” sophomore Jacob Shore said. “I grew up with Pokémon; it was kind of my life as a kid. The first time I played it, I was in an airport, looking at my phone, trying to find a Bulbasaur. So initially, it was not, ‘Oh, I need this game,’ but after a while, I really wanted to play.”
Despite its predecessors, Pokémon Go’s user-friendly display lured in long-time and new players alike, promoting an air of inclusivity. The app encourages physical activity, rewarding avid walkers with hatched Pokémon and the delight of receiving special items from various PokéStops along the way. “It’s not just a video game,” Chavez said. “It’s social. I’ve gone to events where there are a hundred other people at PokéStops and we’re just chatting along, playing and catching Pokémon. It motivates a lot of young children, and even adults, to get out of the house and just play the game.”
While venturing, the social boundaries that had once kept strangers to themselves seemingly dissipated, as people discovered a newfound commonality. “A lot of times, there is a random person and you don’t just walk up to them and start talking,” Chavez said. “But since everyone has been playing Pokémon, you have that easy conversation starter, just say ‘What level are you? What team are you? Are there a lot of Pokémon here?’ and things like that. It’s easy to start engaging in conversations with people you’ve never met before.”
Though the positive effects achieved through the game outweigh the negative, the app does have its flaws. With reports of accidents, trespassing and even burglaries noted on the news, there is enough to be wary of while playing. “It definitely has worsened the behavior of drivers,” Shore jokes. “More so than I would say texting has. That’s just [my] opinion, though; I don’t have any data to back that up.”
Despite attempts to alleviate the number of trainers driving on the road, there remain ways to evade the systems in place, by a simple selection of the statement “I’m a passenger.” Fortunately, the app ceases to spawn new Pokémon if you travel over a set speed, disabling high-speed drivers from playing the game while in the car.
What remains the most powerful aspect of Pokémon Go, however, is the nostalgia it evokes amongst its players. For a great number of the children within this generation, we were raised with Pokémon gyms and running through rustling grass in hopes of conquering wild Pokémon. We prided ourselves on the Pokémon we worked so desperately to evolve, bragging about our latest stats at the lunch table. As time passed, those same PokéBalls began to accumulate dust as the game cartridge lay unused within our Nintendo devices. With the release of Pokémon Go, players were allowed to relive childhood bliss. “A lot of people got the nostalgia they needed, and it brought nostalgia to myself as well,” senior César Zamora said. “I just like how it brings you back to the 90s and you’re able to explore everything. I just wish it was set that once you caught [the Pokémon], it would say, ‘What’s that Pokémon?’ and it would show the one you caught.”
With over 130 Pokémon to catch and more incoming from the second generation, players find themselves in a seemingly endless quest to capture them all. To truly become the best, trainers must see beyond the sightings listed on their screen. “If you want to be a serious Pokémon player and catch them all, you have to know all the hot spots in your city, even hot spots outside of your city, that are super popular with thousands of people there,” Chavez said. “If you go to Santa Monica or The Pike at Long Beach, those are probably some of the best spots that you can go to in Southern California.” For those who are bound to their near vicinity, fret not. Whittier College itself is home to a gym and an abundance of PokéStops, three of which can be reached from the StoJo courtyard.
Beyond Niantic’s viral app, there is a story to be shared. Whether you are an avid fan or otherwise, it cannot be denied that the Pokémon franchise has established a sense of community amongst the entirety of the United States, not to mention the countries that lie further. To fully comprehend the depth at which the games have imprinted on lives, however, one must explore beyond Pokémon Go. “Play the video games, like the actual games, the original Pokémon games,” Shore said. “I know a lot of people just jumped onto the bandwagon [because] of the excitement of it all. Pokémon Go is great and all, but it has its issues and honestly, I enjoyed playing those games when I was a kid so much that I would recommend them to everyone.”
While some may reason that they are simply just games, or a frivolous way to spend time, others maintain that Pokémon was far more than that during their childhood, and continues to be a pastime reminiscent of their youth. “My favorite has always been Squirtle,” Shore said. “He just meant a lot to me as a young kid. I remember the first night I ever evolved a Wartortle into a Blastoise. I was five years old, it was 8:30 at night, and my bedtime was 8:30. My parents were yelling at me, ‘Put the GameBoy away! Go to bed!’ and all of a sudden, the screen starts to brighten and Wartortle starts to evolve into Blastoise. That was probably one of the best nights of sleep I ever got as a kid because I was so happy.”