Pokemon Go: A Bizarre Social Experiment

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I don’t need to tell you that Pokemon Go released this week for IOS and Android in the U.S, you already know this because of the numerous grown adults who have stopped right in front of you while walking.  The game made headline and incredible numbers within hours of being released and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing. Popularity alone isn’t enough to be deemed noteworthy here on the Sociology of Video Games (Take that Overwatch!), but Pokemon Go is proving to be much more than just a game; it’s becoming a social experiment.

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For those unaware, Pokemon Go has users going out into the world looking for Pokemon in their communities. Certain Pokemon appear is specific areas, and the abundance and availability of Pokemon change depending on your location.The game also features Pokestops and Gyms, which are specific landmarks that earn new tasks, abilities, and items, and these locations are scattered throughout various designated spots in each community. Players choose between 1 of 3 teams and each team must work together to claim the most gyms by battling it out with other players. How this translate to the real world is that users are venturing out of their homes to find new Pokemon and new locations that offer them rewards (I.E the baptist church down the street is seeing more people than it has in 20 years). What has developed since its release is a slew of very sociologically interesting events. To name a few:

Pokemon Go Pub Crawls are popping up in many major U.S Cities. Get wasted why you look at your phone and stumble into unknown territory with strangers. What could go wrong?

Pokemon Go is bringing a lot of new business to locations deemed Pokestops. You know that Barbershop down the street you never had the guts to try? Now you can, because a game developer has deemed them worthy of Mons.

Robbers are using Pokemon Go to lure potential victims. Sorry, no Jynxs here…Just The Jinx

Pokemon Go is showing positive benefits for people with metal illness and depression. Who needs a therapy dog when you can have 150 different Pokemon to tend to.

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And those are just a start. What we’re seeing is that Pokemon Go is changing up many normal gaming conventions and creating a new way of play. People are interacting, bonding, cooperating, and working together in new and dynamic ways.It’s really quite something to observe, as one probably wouldn’t imagine that it would take a video game for people to venture further into the community and be opened to new locations and places. The developer, Niantic, ingeniously went about how they crafted their Pokemon world; Art installations, unique community landmarks, and lesser known locations make up many of the Pokestops and Gyms, spurring many players to discover new things in their local community. Similarly, the gym mechanic is making for something interesting partnerships between strangers, as taking over  a gym pretty much requires you to work with others in your group or else your Pokemon will be trounced by the opposing team.

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Pokemon, even if its first incarnation, has always been a social game and Pokemon Go is proving to be a brilliantly crafted take on the franchise’s social elements. I personally think Pokemon Go is a really unique app. I say app, because it’s honestly a little light on the actual game side. It’s more the social phenomenon that the game has created that keeps bringing me back to the app, checking to see if any new Pokemon are near me. Niantic has the basis of something amazing; if they improve upon the game’s features and add more of a built in social element (the ability to trade, battle near by trainers, etc) then Pokemon Go might be a near perfect social mobile adaptation of the Nintendo franchise. The developer seems to have plans to expand the game, and with their record breaking numbers it’s likely we’ll be hearing about Pokemon Go for years to come. We’ll keep watching this bizarre social experiment of catching fictional beasts out in our community and report back with any more sociologically interesting findings.

 

Twitch Plays Pokemon: Can Thousands Work Together To Be a Master?

The past few days a social experiment has taken over Twitch. Twitch, for those who may not know, is an interactive streaming website primarily focused on gaming. This past week, a user by the name of TwitchPlaysPokemon uploaded the 1996 classic Pokemon Red to the servers of Twitch, enabling the game to be controlled via chat commands. The results are hilarious, interesting, and insane.

140218174147-twitch-plays-pokemon-story-topWhen the game went up on Twitch earlier in the week the play mechanics were amusing and novel. A player, in a chatroom of about 100, could enter a command and see the onscreen player move accordingly. Then thousands and thousands of people jump aboard. At its peak, Twitch is reporting that over  80,000 players were participating and watching at once. The result is a spastic main character who seems to be struggle to do anything but walk around in circles. The goal, now, has become to journey through the game as a group.

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However, to better function tweaks have been made to the game. A few days ago, a change was made to the game to allow for a more civil play experience. Players now have the option of voting for either Anarchy or Democracy. When the majority of players vote for Anarchy, the game is carried out in the same fashion as it was when it first began; chat commands from all players dictate how the main character moves. When the majority of players vote for democracy, chat commands are disabled and players instead vote on what movement to make  and the game moves with the majority move.  Of course, it even gets more absurd when the game gets thrust into battle. The results have been absurd and have spawned memes and jokes across the internet.

I don't have time to explain the Helix thing..
I don’t have time to explain the Helix thing..

The sheer fact that this democratic system for working together has arisen in this chaotic world is incredibly interesting, both from a gamer’s perspective and a sociologist perspective. TwitchPlaysPokemon has become a fascinating case scenario for how the internet can create unique social experiences in places that once were not social. It shows the creative ability of group interaction to change and add new life into something from the past, and re-imagine what it is to play video games together.

Even if you’re not into for its social implications, it’s still a hell of a funny thing to watch.

Join in the fun here!

 

Lessons on the Social World: Pokemon

“I want to be the very best, that no one ever was!”

It’s not all links and sadness here at the Sociology of Video Games, there’s also deep personal analysis about what Pokemon means to me. No, that’s not true either. However, I did think it would be fun and worthwhile to take the opportunity to examine some popular video game franchises for their messages about the social world. What better place to start than 2nd most popular gaming franchise of all time: Little Masters.

..No, wait. Sorry. That’s the Iphone’s bastard ripoff. I mean of course:


Pokemon is by far one of the definitive games of the 90s, with it being one of the best selling and most popular franchises of all time. 15 years (That makes me feel old) later and the franchise is still white hot, like that Misty’s Sweet short shorts (or Brocks..awesome vest. For the ladies..). For any kid growing up in the last decade, Pokemon may have played an important part in developing their frame of mind when viewing various aspects of the social world. But what are these messages and lessons about social world that Pokemon is teaching our kids? Are they good messages? Is pokemon only teaching our kids to trap animals in balls, and only let them out once and awhile to fight other animals? This isn’t a PETA analysis of Pokemon, but let’s play: Here are some themes and concepts Pokemon is teaching kids all over the world.

Capitalism!

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One of the more predominant themes that seem to be underlying the Pokemon is Capitalism. Now obviously the game isn’t teaching kids to accumulate wealth (Though there’s a lot of exchange of cash for kids battling bugs in the forest), but the goal of the Pokemon world isn’t that far from the goal of capitalism: Be the best, have the most.  Now, one could theoretically go through the game without acquiring a lot of pokemon, but the game inevitably pushes you to catch multiple pokemon to succeed. That’s not a bad message, as it certainly teaches kids to be fiscally motivated (An issue we saw was lacking in games aimed at female gamers: See below)), but it also makes living creatures essentially into commodities. So..That’s bad. Not to mention you’re essentially an intern for Professor Oak; doing all his work for him while you get paid peanuts.

But like Capitalism, there’s never an end accumulation. With new games come new pokemon and the world is seemingly always expanding. Can one really catch them all? Yes…until there’s more. Gamefreak is teaching us to never be satisfied with what you’ve caught. Being Goal oriented isn’t bad though…most of the time.

Once you start thinking of monetary values in Pokemon, you probably will need to take a break from the franchise.

Competition!

“I came when I heard you defeated The Elite Four” – Professor Oak

Like the theme that I still hum to myself to get me pumped up for any event ever, the goal of pokemon is to be the very best. Pokemon is all about competition. Every battle is teaching kids to outwit, overpower, and outdo their opponents. There can only be one pokemon master and if you’re not him or her, ya suck.

There’s not much you do in the Pokemon world that isn’t a means to an end: You raise a pokemon for it to be stronger, you trade with your friends to acquire what you need, and battling is the only worthwhile way to be the best. But hey, that’s not necessarily bad- some competition is healthy, and games like Pokemon build confidence and challenge kids to think about their actions. Kids today can become in powered by video games; if you’re the pokemon master in the Pokemon world, adding and subtracting fractions aint shit.

Social Stratification!

Ok. Ok. You may think is stupid, but Pokemon certainly has a caste system. Not all Pokemon are created equal my friend. In a world filled with thousands of Pidgeys and only a handful of Zapdos, there clearly some Pokemon that are better than others. Now some might argue with me and say “IT’S HOW U TRAIN THEM. MY LEVEL 100 PIDGEY IS THE BEST”, and I’m not going to pretend to know the stat balancing factors in the games, but it’s pretty clear that some pokemon are overpowered. In fact, most multiplayer/tournament rules prohibit certain Pokemon from being used because they are considered overpowered.  Yes, it’s silly: Any video game you play will have some characters that are stronger than others, but does that lessen the message at all? Who knows. But certainly the game makes kids think of classifications and place certain pokemon in classes accordingly: These pokemon are strong, these are weak. Likewise, the very nature of game classifies pokemon into types- Fire, water, dragon, bug, etc. But hey, classifications help children learn, so it’s not all that bad.

It’s only when you start making Pokemon HM Slaves that you’re crossing the line and making a pokemon a second class citizen.

You Gotta be Social!

tradin’ jigglypuffs n shit

Pokemon was created to be a social game, even back when the gameboy wasn’t the most social things. Most gameboy connector cables were bought specifically for Pokemon, in fact how many mulitplayer games on the gameboy can you even think of? Yeah, ok I can think of quite a few. That said, Pokemon makes you be social, because without being social you can’t fulfill the one main task of the game: catching them all. Version exclusive pokemon and Pokemon that only were available through trading ensured that you were interacting with at least one other game. Gamefreak brilliantly made two versions of the game so that players had to either own both, or trade with someone else. Even if you owned both versions of the game (Which many of us did) you still had to have two gameboys to connect (which many of us did), so really the most efficient and cost effective way to obtain all the pokemon is to have friends. Recent Pokemon games have enabled players to go online and trade, battle, and interact with people all over the world, so Pokemon has really become a global community.

Why there hasn’t been a Pokemon MMO is ridiculous. Nintendo, you monsters. (Official MMOs. Sorry fan mades)

Other Quick Social lessons Pokemon has to Teach

  • All Animals, regardless of power, control over time and space, or size, can be shoved into a single ball after a series of attacks and coaxing.
  • We should probably check other parts of the world before we claim there’s only 151 of them.
  • Some animals are more racially insensitive than others
  • As a child, you’re very safe going out into the world on your own as long as you have some sort of animal at your side.
  • Don’t ever walk into tall grass. Things will attack you.
  • If someone attacks you and beats you, you’ll just black out and wind up in a hospital in the last city you visited.
  • Healthcare is free, but bottled waters are wicked expensive.
  • The world is kind of based on you, and people will more or less stand in the same place forever- even after you have interacted with them.
  • Sailing alongside islands makes crazy things happen.

So that’s that. There’s more Pokemon has to say about the social world, but I’ll leave it at this. Does Pokemon actually convey these messages that I brought up? Maybe, but no one is really being shaped all that much by the games in the manner. In the end, they’re just fun games with tons of replay value and things to do. Just make sure your starters a good one. Charmander for life.

Please let me know if you enjoyed this article by either liking, sharing or commenting. I may do some more in the future. Who knows. Who cares.