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Crazy Game, Crazier People

Mobile avatar of 20-yearold game Pokemon Go remerges to take the world by storm. Whatever could be next?

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


If aliens want to take over the world, they should try it out with a smartphone game. They’ll certainly have everyone captive.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a game whose origins date back to 1996, shot back into the world in a new mobile avatar and went so wildly viral it took everyone by surprise, not the least its Japanese maker Nintendo whose stock went up over 50 per cent in the first week of the game’s release.

Pokemon Go isn’t even available officially everywhere yet and it’s overtaken Twitter’s daily users, dating app Tinder’s app installs, and Facebook’s daily average time spent. Those who can, quickly figured out how to download the app anyway and soon Pokemon Go was being avidly played everywhere, crashing servers in the process.

Of course, what goes up must go down and one can’t say how long-lasting a phenomenon Pokemon Go will be, but while it goes about its business, a lot of remarkable things have been brought home.

The first is that you can’t really predict or guarantee virality. Much analysis is on about how it was entirely inevitable that this game should have gone viral — the brand, the nostalgia etc — I think it’s difficult to replicate. The second is that, given something playful that brings people out of their everyday lives can cause them to turn ordinary rules and norms on their heads.

While playing Pokemon Go, which has you up and walking around in the outdoors and looking for these creatures you’re supposed to catch, users are disregarding their own safety to a shocking extent. They’re walking into traffic because they’re too busy looking at their phones, they’ve fallen into lakes, and even stepped on venomous snakes.

Lane Smith, 18-year -old Flower Mound resident, did just that and was bitten in the process. He thought he was stepping on a stick, but got a bit of venom for his troubles though thankfully he recovered. In a much reported case, one young girl strayed too far and ended up discovering a dead body.

What the game does is to superimpose virtual creatures on to the real world and in a compelling treasure hunt, has its users going about to Pokestops and Gyms trying to catch the cute creatures. They can also compete with each other.

Except that these Pokestations, etc could be just about anywhere. When they led users inside Nazi death camps, a Holocaust museum, cemeteries, and the 9/11 memorial, it quite obviously led to justifiable protest from authorities. But did users forget everything but that game? It certainly seems so. They’ve also walked into people’s houses, restaurants, offices and even churches and temples, some of which are okay with being designated Pokemon Gyms.

Obviously, it’s a win for augmented reality. Being able to mix virtual and real so effectively has implications for future games and other content. It’s been done before, but crudely. Seeing this, marketers are already excited about possibilities that have been explored with apps like Blippar, but haven’t gone mainstream.

Pokemon may be forgotten a few weeks down the line, but the speed and sweep with which it took over to alter human behaviour leaves one aghast, though fascinated.

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