Existing Publicly as an Awkward Nerd: Some Thoughts on the Cultural Effect of Pokémon Go

The Pokémon series of games have been pretty groundbreaking in regards to encouraging connectivity, from the original wire-connected Game Boy generations to the advent of wireless international play in the 3DS generation. Within the past couple of generations, Pokémon, and Nintendo in general, has encouraged gamers to go outside. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver had the PokéWalker, a scarily accurate pedometer that racked up points in connection with the number of steps a player had taken. The 3Ds had the lackluster streetpass feature, which rewarded gamers for going outside and passing other players with in-game rewards.

Pokémon Go is different. While you could Streetpass people with a 3DS in your pocket and nobody can ever know who you are, Pokémon Go forces you to participate publicly. Players gather around public hotspots, including gyms. Outside.

Initially, I was skeptical, especially considering the fact that mobile games are often stigmatized for not counting as real games. Of course, this stigmatization often goes hand in hand with individuals claiming that women are not a significant gaming demographic. Pokémon Go doesn’t divert from that too much – it’s still a mobile game. It’s not nearly as complex as the cartridge series of Pokémon games. (Ironically, it still has its apologists – some people claim that Pokémon Go doesn’t really count as a mobile game, and I will fully call that out as both overzealous nostalgia and complete bullshit). But the game really doesn’t have to be that complex.

I’ve had a pretty extensive history with the gaming community. I’ve been hanging around card shops since I was fourteen. I’ve been breeding Pokémon for competitive play since high school. (My perfect IV Garchomp has been ported across three generations, and I was extremely excited the first time I saw it rendered in 3D). I participated in Smogon tournaments back when ShoddyBattle was a thing. I went to DragonCon – as a model for a company. As a result, I feel comfortable speaking about my experience as a nerd. Until recently, we were mostly confined to hubs – comic shops and convention halls. Marvel and DC movies made things easier for us, as well as the normalization of video gaming. However, Pokémon Go was different. Pokémon Go has lead to a new revelation – there’s a lot more of us out there than people would expect, and there’s a wide, wide variety of us.

Pokémon Go has given people – read, nerds – something we haven’t had before. It’s given us a universal common denominator with “regular folks.” It’s available on almost every smartphone, so you don’t need an expensive gaming-exclusive device to play it. It’s free (although still a “pay to win” system). It doesn’t matter what you do in your spare time – if you play Pokémon, you can talk about Pokémon. That’s huge for any community. The more diverse a population, the healthier it is, and bringing in people of all cultural backgrounds together can only result in positive developments for the gaming community. If we can get more people passionate about games, we’ll have more people creating content for games.

Pokémon Go has given gamers what Marvel and DC movies have given comics nerds – a way for being nerdy to be mundane. The strategy works – Pokémon Go has made an obscene amount of money despite being riddled with bugs and server issues. It’s created a cultural impact and allowed more people to participate in games than ever before. If this is the future of gaming, I’m excited for it.

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