Barry McNamara  |   Published July 13, 2016

Go, Pokémon!

Monmouth’s Prince, Lindsay tell curious reporter about the hot new craze
  • Various Pokémon have already been seen on campus during the Pokémon Go craze.
My first exposure to Pokémon Go came late Sunday night, while walking my dog, Addie.

After sunset, Addie and I typically have the side streets of Monmouth to ourselves, but not Sunday. There were packs of kids out on foot and on bikes, and cars were behaving strangely, parking for several seconds in front of houses, then moving on.

As Addie and I passed the First United Methodist Church, one kid on a bike asked me, “Caught any Pokémons yet?”

OK, so that’s what all this fuss is about.

By Monday morning, there were stories all over the Internet about Pokémon Go – some about the phenomenon itself, and others about the extremes that game players were going to, such as playing in places likes Arlington National Cemetery and the National Holocaust Museum. Headlines such as “Pokémon Go takes world by storm, but sparks controversy” have been common.

I had a vague idea about how the game worked, but to get it clear in my mind, I read “Pokémon Go explained in fewer than 400 words” on Vox.com.

I’ll shorten that article to 32 words: Pokémon Go is the world’s first big “augmented reality” game, mixing real-world elements from the GPS and clock of a player’s phone, with elements from Pokémon’s Nintendo game play from the 1990s.

Based on its worldwide success in less than a week, it’s safe to say that augmented reality games like Pokémon Go, which is free but also has paid elements, could be “the next big thing,” mixing the addictive power of cell phone games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, with geocaching.

I talked to Tom Prince, a faculty member in Monmouth’s department of political economy and commerce, to get his take on the business ramifications, and to Kevin Lindsay, the College’s web and digital media manager, who has his finger on the pulse of these types of social media crazes.

“The free app isn’t available globally yet (it’s only in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Germany right now), and Pokémon Go is already at the top of both the Apple and Google app charts, beating out Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and many other popular social apps,” Lindsay said. “Just as many people – if not more, by now – are using Pokémon Go on a daily basis as are using Twitter.”

Prince noted that Nintendo’s net worth grew $2 billion in the past week.

“They have a huge hit on their hands, and they’re going to monetize it as best they can,” he said.

One way to do that is the aforementioned paid elements to the game, but a big way that Prince discussed is through advertising.

“Can you imagine if one of the Pokémon characters is wearing a Corn Flakes T-shirt? Or Coors Light?” he said. “There are millions of people interacting with this app, and that huge has implications, I think.”

While media such as radio, newspapers and traditional TV are all becoming “outdated” forms of advertising, the reverse is true for mobile media.

“Most of our students don’t listen to the radio or read a newspaper, but it would be interesting to see what percentage of them is playing Pokémon Go,” said Prince. “Our world is going to change in that respect. Right now, Pokémon Go has a captured audience that is unbelievable. It really tells the power of social media as an advertising platform.”

Lindsay said Monmouth College is a hotspot for the app, with more than 20 different landmarks on campus being used as PokéStops and gyms.

“PokéStops will drop free items for players to use to catch and train their Pokémon, and the gyms allow players to battle for the rights to claim a landmark as their own,” he explained, adding, “Once students return to campus in August, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them gather specifically to play Pokémon Go. I know that for me and a handful of other alums, taking a walk around campus has been a lot more enjoyable lately with the addition of Pokémon Go. “

And that’s an important distinction, Lindsay said, giving Pokémon Go a big advantage over the types of video games that are played while sitting on a couch.

“It’s pretty much impossible to get very far in the game without moving around, which is how Pokémon Go is helping people get their daily exercise in, all while exploring new areas of their towns and having the thrill of training virtual creatures,” he said.

“It’s hot and fresh right now,” said Prince. “Will it pass? There’s a good chance it might. It has a lot of cool applications, and a lot of troubling applications.”

To that end, Prince related the story of a tech reporter in a park in New York City, who wrote about being outside, in a throng of Pokémon Go players. Suddenly, he realized that he and those around him were looking at each other and the natural beauty of the park through their phones.

“He turned his phone off and ran out of the park,” said Prince. “He didn’t want to be that person.”
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