Pokémon GO: The Community Game

Whenever I think of the year 2016, a few key events come to mind: graduating high school, being accepted into university, moving away from my hometown, and Pokémon GO taking the world by storm.

Pokémon GO is an Augmented Reality (AR) mobile game, developed and published by Niantic, in collaboration with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. I distinctly remember when the game was released in July of 2016, noticing how much it was trending on social media and the amount of individuals who began downloading this game onto their phones. Even in my small hometown of Orange, the player base quickly started to add up, and soon enough all the local parks were filled with prospective trainers trying to catch em’ all.

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Pokémon GO © Niantic, Nintendo & The Pokémon Company

However, a real shock came when I travelled to Wollongong for university interterviews, and noticed the sheer number of players surrounding the Wollongong lighthouse at 8pm on a weeknight. The original pull to play this game was the idea of catching Pokémon out in the real world, with your mobile phone. This created the necessecity to go outside and interact with the environment in order to play the game, and subsequently interact with other players due to the popularity of the game. Although, I never did feel a sense of community back when I was a player in 2016 (which was very short-lived).

Like many, I stopped playing the game only a few months after its release (did you know that Pokemon GO dropped from 28.5 million users in July 2016, to under 5 million by December 2016?), only to make a comeback in May of this year. The comeback was the result of a returning love affinity with the Pokémon franchise, particularly from the nostalgia of revisiting the main series Pokémon games on Nintendo Game Boy Advance and DS.

There’s definitely more of a community vibe when playing Pokémon GO in 2019, particularly with the Raid Battles feature revolving around collaboration and cooperation with fellow players. Additionally, community focused events now take place, such as Pokémon GO Fest and the monthly Community Days.

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August Community Day 2019

Within the context of BCM320 – Digital Asia, I began to think about what it would be like to play Pokémon GO outside of Australia and the culutre I’m used to operating in. An initial questions that I asked myself was whether it is possible to play Pokémon GO in China. Based on what I’ve heard from media sources, many digital apps, technologies and platforms are either banned or heavily restricted in China.

I also wonder if there is a similar sense of community when playing Pokémon GO in Asian countries. Some of the game mechanics deem player cooperation a requirement (such as Raid Battles), regardless of region, but many of the assumptions I have about Asian culture is that individuals are not as interactive with one another (particularly with strangers), compared to the Australian culture that I’m a part of.

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Raid Battles in Pokémon GO

Finally, I’ve been thinking about whether there’s an element of competitiveness when playing Pokémon GO in Asian countries. for many players in my local community, Pokémon GO is purely casual; whereas for others, the game is more serious and integrated into their daily routines, often seeking the best Pokémon possible and hunting harder than their peers. I’m curious as to whether this is a common theme for players in Asian countries, especially with my knowledge of other gaming communites (such as League of Legends and StarCraft) in these countries being extremely competitve compared to somewhere like Australia.

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