Better without gameplay: Pokémon Go

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I recently got a Pokémon Go+, a tiny bluetooth button that you can use to spin nearby Pokestops, throw basic Pokeballs and measure travel distance. It made me think about how much of a game you can strip away and still actually have one.


There are two directions I’d like to take this thought. First, let’s go the other way: Someone on the very good r/TheSilphRoad reddit, which is fuelled by scientific minds, asked: Why don’t the developers make it legal to use GPS location spoofing by implementing it officially? He added that those players would of course be barred from competitive play like gyms, and that this would allow handicapped people to participate.

There are a lot of reasons against this and I just want to hint at some: Doubling development efforts because both modes have to be supported. Splitting playerbase. Frustrating players if future features are not accessible to at-home players.

But the most central reason is, I think, this: Pokémon Go is a variant of an existing single player game. At its core, Go is undeniably a worse version of the single player games. The micro gameplay loop of Go (Pokémon appears, you tap it to engage, you throw balls to hit it until it is caught or flees) is basically the same as the gameplay loop of the mainline Pokemon games – with all of the combat and almost all of the decision making removed. There is just less in there. When I explained the game functionality to some non-gaming adults last summer, their reaction was a resounding „that’s it?“

Because the actual gameplay sounds like a really shitty fad game. As I am writing this, german children are caught in the trend of Fidget Spinners, a toy that just spins. I am reminded of Gogo’s Crazy Bones (1997) and Wrestling Chipz and all the other collectible trend games that live for about half a year before being abandoned by their zealous players. All of them are unified by the realization that the core „gameplay“ is too basic to be fun once you are made aware of it – and hiding that realization behind gimmicks and group dynamics (wanting to be part of the cool kids who also have the thing), is what stretches the life span of a trend game out. An individual Gogo is just a shitty figurine. A wrestling chip without a print is nearly indistinguishable from garbage. A video game where you tap a small animal, then swing your finger maybe a few times and then wait really deserves little attention if you could be playing literally anything else.

If you could just move your game character anywhere in the world while staying at home, that’s what Pokemon Go would be. You would probably place your character at Santa Monica pier or at one of a handful other spots in the world that were identified by sites mining the game for data. And then you would sit there and do the micro loop. How long does it take before you realize that this is an utter waste of time? You willingly forfeit the right to even fight with these Pokemon when you chose to joined the legal spoofing mode, so there is nothing you can do with them besides managing your inventory by throwing out the bad ones.

The actual reason for playing this game, the one that keeps me and other engaged players active, is the medium gameplay loop. Going somewhere, physically. I make plans for where to take my bicycle (which I sprayed in clown colours to make it less attractive to thieves by the way, if you’ve been wondering about that since the first paragraph). When I go out to a nearby city, I check the Global Nest Atlas to see if somewhere on the way there’s a reliable spawn location for a type of Pokemon I haven’t, or only rarely, caught yet. I’ll be totally honest here: Without the game, I would only use my bike for necessary trips. With it, I am at 600 km moved with the game open (which is in actuality a much higher number, the game under-estimates ranges a lot if you go to fast, as bikes tend to do).

Actual Pokémon Go+ gameplay

Which brings me to the Pokemon Go+. This device basically asks the opposite question: How about we just remove every aspect of Pokémon Go except going places and sometimes pressing a button? And it isn’t even hypothetical, this is an official tool. You can wear the Go+ on a wristband, clip it to your shirt or just hold it, without the band. It blinks and vibrates when something is in range, you push butan and receev bacon. It never misses the ball, but since you can not use Great- or Ultraballs or add berries, the chances of catching an individual poke are lower. Which doesn’t matter because most of the catches are ones I would have never even attempted. Because the gameplay loop is so tedious.

This is not the spot for a tech review of the device, but let me just acknowledge: It isn’t perfect. The flaws are as clearly visible as the iPhone 1’s flaws are from today’s perspective. It isn’t optimized for bicycle speeds, so I often have to circle around a place to throw balls at all the Pokemon there. And it silently disconnects too often so you can’t ignore your phone for like an hour. This is more about the idea of the device than the actual version that exists now.

With the Go+, you basically don’t play Pokemon Go anymore. Unless you’re imagining the game, it’s just a button that vibrates sometimes. When you’re in a chat room, you aren’t actually meeting a bunch of people, but through technology you are creating an imagined community in everyone’s heads. To an introvert like me, having just people’s ideas and written words in front of me, without the actual people who keep interrupting me – that’s what I want.
And to an inside-person like me, having a game that just makes me go outside regularly, without also forcing me to look at a screen in constant intervals – that is also what I want. The actual gameplay of Pokemon Go gets stale quickly. Going outside for a bit might last me a while longer.

It is reasonable to say that the Go+ is not something I could recommend to everyone – you have to be a specific type of person. Just like I could not recommend a chat room to everyone. And to be clear: This is not meant as an advertisement for the Go+. It makes a „free“ game basically an almost-full price game, in addition to all the other problems.

But it is very good to have.



Written by vetaro

18. Juni 2017 um 12:31 am

Veröffentlicht in Uncategorized

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