Ed. Note: This is part one of two parts on the Pokémon GO game that has people wandering around town with their phones in front of their faces — well, more than usual. Today is some background on the twenty-year-old Pokémon universe. In Part Two, we’ll cover this newest incarnation of Pokémon GO. After you’ve read both parts, you’ll be ready to converse about it — or download it yourself.
If you’re a human living in America, you may have noticed lately the increasing swarms of young people wandering around parks, shops, and neighborhoods with their phones out. While the sight of young people on their phones is hardly surprising in this day and age, the sheer number of them is probably a little baffling. They mill around popular landmarks, cafes, and businesses, and they all seem to be searching for something.
You may be wondering: what is it that they’re searching for? What could possibly drag all these people, young and old, off the couch and out the door?
The answer to that is simple: Pokémon.
You may have already heard of the recently-released game called Pokémon GO; an app for smartphones that uses location-based technology to place Pokémon in the “real world”. Players of Pokémon GO can find these Pokémon, capture them, and battle with them just as they would with a normal Pokémon game (in theory. It’s not actually the same, but I’ll spare you the details). Pokémon GO is already making headlines both here and abroad, both as an extremely positive force and a potentially dangerous one. It is nothing short of a phenomenon.
I’m sure you have many questions. As the BJN’s staff expert on Pokémon (that’s my official title, BJN Staff Pokémon Expert), I’m here to answer your questions and clear up your misunderstandings in this two-part series.
In this first part I’ll be covering the most core question of all this: What, Exactly, Is a “Pokémon”?
Some of you may already know the answer to this question. Tell your kids I said thank you.
Pokémon–pronounced “Poh-Kay-Mon,” and short for “Pocket Monsters”–are magical, highly intelligent creatures that roam the land and sea in the world of the games and cartoon. Some people keep Pokemon as pets, but other people keep them as friends and partners. The latter group, called “Pokémon Trainers,” dedicate much of their lives to capturing and training these Pokémon.
Trainers pit their Pokémon against each other in friendly fights called “battles”–and before you run to call the ASPCA, I want to assure you that Pokémon battles are not at all like dog or cockfighting in our world. Instead, think of Pokémon battles more like karate or sumo matches: contests of strength in which the more skilled fighter wins. Trainers and Pokémon work together to defeat the opponent’s team; Pokémon are not forced to fight, and they never fight to the death. In the Pokémon world, these sport-like fights are about as popular as football is here in America. Trainers dream of one day earning the title Pokémon Master–a title which has as many definitions as there are ways to enjoy Pokémon!
The Pokémon franchise began twenty years ago this past February, when the first games were released in Japan on the Game Boy. Since then it has practically exploded into one of the most popular franchises in the world, and continues at full strength to this day. New games are released every year, selling millions of copies; new expansions to the trading card game come every few months, and new seasons of the much-beloved cartoon air just about every year. There have been Pokémon theme parks, Pokémon airplanes, and Japan even has several brick and mortar stores dedicated to Pokémon merchandise. There are fans of Pokémon from all over the world–and yes, that includes Israel!
Pokémon’s heyday in America was the late 1990s, following the American release of Pokémon Red and Blue for the Game Boy Color in 1998, alongside the trading card game and cartoon. If you were alive then (so, most of the people reading this article) I’m sure you remember that Pokémon was simply everywhere. The old slogan was “gotta catch ‘em all”–referring to all 150 species of Pokémon there were at the time. (Now that number is well over 700. I used to have it memorized, but I stopped keeping track around Arceus once I realized that the number would only continue to grow.)
“Gotta catch ‘em all” basically ensured that fans of Pokémon were constantly after more–more toys, more cards, more Pokémon. Marketers jumped on this, knowing that kids would want to buy anything Pokémon related–and thus, Pokémon stuff was all over the place. You could buy Pokémon mac and cheese, Pokémon pop tarts, have a Pokémon birthday party and eat Pokémon cake off Pokémon plates. Pokémon was so popular that some schools started banning it from their grounds so that their kids could focus (also, so that kids wouldn’t beat the tar out of each other for Pokémon cards, which did happen).
I grew up in that era of complete Pokémon inundation, and I remember it fondly: every kid I knew liked Pokémon. Pokémon was something you could talk about with anyone, and it was easy to make new friends if you knew something about Pokémon. Pokémon was more than just collecting the merchandise–which I also did, religiously–it was also about building relationships between people.
Pokémon’s core tenet is “connections”: between Pokémon and trainer, and between fellow trainers. In the games, some Pokémon were only available in one title or another–you had to team up with your friends who had the opposite title and trade Pokémon between games in order to catch them all. This is still true for newer games, but instead of having to trade with your friends in person, now you can battle and trade with anyone in the world wirelessly via the internet.
From the beginning, Pokémon has always been about encouraging kids to play together, and making the most of current technology to make that possible. It seems only natural that, for the 20th anniversary, they would pioneer a whole new way to bring people and Pokémon together.
Now that you have some context, we’re ready to talk about Pokémon GO. In Part Two we’ll discuss some basics of the game, as well as what makes it so appealing.
FREE! Worried about Pokémon Go interrupting Shabbat services? Download and print these handy signs for your doors! Click the image to open a printable PDF.