I have avoided Pokémon Go so far. Here’s why I’m about to give in.

I have avoided Pokémon Go so far. Here’s why I’m about to give in.

Shane BarnhillWednesday,20 July 2016

I missed all of the initial hype about Pokémon Go when it was released earlier this month. At the time, I was vacationing in Iceland and doing my best to avoid the mostly-depressing news from both the U.S. and rest of the world. I would occasionally peek at The New York Times and ESPN during my trip, but that was just for quickly scanning through headlines — mostly for news related to Iceland’s run in the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament.

So I didn’t hear about Pokémon Go until it was already a runaway hit. Usually, this would’ve been slightly anxiety-inducing for me. I love new technology products — especially apps and consumer hardware — and I enjoy getting my hands on newly-released technology to see what I can learn. But I didn’t feel that way about Pokémon Go; my level of enthusiasm was about on par with an “Uber for someone to come over and punch you in the face” app. No interest. Zero. Close the browser tab and move on.

But I’m not a curmudgeon, yelling at the kids get off my lawn while they walk through looking for rare Pokémon Go characters. Instead, there are two reasons why I haven’t really been interested in Pokémon Go.

1. I misjudged the target market for Pokémon products. My kids outgrew Pokémon when they were about 6–7 years old; thus, I had assumed the target market for a Pokémon game was 5–10 year-old children. But given the huge number of downloads of Pokémon Go, plus reports that daily average use of Pokémon Go is higher than Instagram, Snapchat and other top apps, I was clearly wrong about the game’s appeal across age ranges. Lesson learned, I guess, regarding opportunities to tap into millennials’ nostalgia for marketing purposes.

2. I’m just not big on video games. Sure, as a child, I enjoyed playing Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Mario Kart and other simple games, but I wasn’t ever very good at them, and have thus largely ignored them for the past couple of decades. I have downloaded and played a handful of iOS games, but overall, gaming apps are a blind spot for me.

But Pokémon Go appears to be more than just another video game (or a game app, whatever, semantics) for a couple of reasons.

First, Pokémon Go is now a permanent pop culture reference point, and not just in the United States. Of course, sometimes it’s fun to pretend that mainstream cultural references are over your head. I haven’t seen The Godfather, It’s a Wonderful Life, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and admittedly, it brings me a perverse sense of joy to watch people trip all over themselves explaining why I simply must see them.

But internet culture has a unique influence on today’s popular culture. Apps and devices are perhaps today’s dominant forms of self-expression, on a global scale. So it’s not a stretch to say that choosing to skip the experience of playing Pokémon Go equates to opting to be ignorant about an important part of the world’s shared culture.

Second, Pokémon Go is one of the first real breakthrough games in augmented reality (AR). Sure, other AR games have been popular, but none have captured the attention globally, and across demographic segments, like Pokémon Go. If you’re in media or marketing and want to understand the potential for using AR to capture the attention of your audiences, then you kind of have to give this game a shot.

And so I will. Pokémon Go’s popularity may ultimately be short-lived (anyone remember Dots?), but for now, it feels like an important moment in both internet and AR history that I can’t afford to skip.


This article also appears on Medium.

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Image Credit: Sadie Hernandez on Flickr

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