Toon Musings: Go Poké, Young Man


Photo: National Park Service

Photo: National Park Service

I like walks, always have. Besides the exercise value, they’re a good time to woolgather, to free associate, to ruminate over particularly sticky problems. I took a walk with my son the other night. There may have been some bonding happening, but there were no weepy revelations, no Polonius-like imparting of sage wisdom. You see, we were on a mission; we were hunting Pokémon.

Yes, this is the obligatory article on Pokémon Go, which, in case you’ve been in a coma, or just been released from solitary confinement, or recently quit the monastery, is the suddenly pervasive augmented reality game from the good folks at Nintendo. The game is based on the venerable Japanese card game cum teevee show cum video game series cum movie franchise cum merchandising empire, wherein a group of plucky kid characters roams around catching the titular critters, and pits them against each other in impromptu battles. The creatures come in a dizzying, and ever increasing, variety of types, both basic and ‘evolved’ forms, with unique powers. And that’s about as far into the weeds as I want to get with this manufactured reality; proceed further at your own risk. As a parent, I foolishly thought I was done with this years ago. (This is a kid’s game, right?) I did not reckon with the cunning of the Nintendo Marketing Department.

My kid has been a fan of games generally, and Pokémon games specifically, for most of his life. He likes strategy and roleplaying games and likes to get together with friends in marathon sessions when he can. A typical evening at home for him would be to camp on the settee, computer in his lap running some strategy game, phone in hand either researching cheat codes or texting friends, all while powerstreaming some animé series or other on the teevee. When Pokémon Go was released a week or so ago, he knew about it in advance and was poised to download the thing the nanosecond it became available. Not one to dither, he immediately fired the thing up. And suddenly there was a Basic Pokémon, a Squirtle, in my vestibule. We couldn’t see the thing, except through his phone’s camera; there was our front hallway as usual, and suddenly there was this damn Squirtle, bold as brass, cavorting there like it owned the place. I confess I felt a little violated. The game generates a starter Pokémon close by, to get the player started “catching ‘em all”—just like your friendly neighborhood pusher man! Squirtle secured, he then announced he was taking a walk.

“You’re taking a what? A… walk? Are the End Times nigh?” I said in my head, because he was already out the door.

This isn’t the first game of this type, to be sure. The developer, Niantic, has perpetrated this sort of thing before when they created a game called Ingress. In partnering with Nintendo and incorporating Poké-mythology into their latest game, they’ve tapped into a huge and longstanding fanbase, fiercely loyal since childhood. The game in many ways resembles the geocaching craze popular some years ago, except that there’s no there there: no cache, at least not in ‘meatspace’. It all exists virtually, in a sort of shared augmented reality. This transit station, or that public fountain, or yonder corner bar, or your local church, is in “reality” a Pokémon center, to be fought over and upgraded and guarded from incursions by rival teams. Turf is established, wars are fought; it’s West Side Story, Sharks versus Jets.

Like any Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, you interact with other real people in building and defending your empire. The difference in this case is that you actually have to get up and go there to do it, and “there” can be a pretty weird place; and instead of verbally slagging somebody in Lower Moldova over your gaming headset, you might actually physically meet some of the people you’re interacting with… you know, face-to-face. Yikes! I hope it doesn’t end in a rumble,… fitness benefits not withstanding.

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UrbPoutPhil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring untrammeled wildernesses, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.