When Pokémon Go hit smartphones this summer, it was an unprecedented hit. It broke records in app stores, caused floods of people to converge in public parks, and might even become a movie. The game was an impressive demonstration of the franchise's popularity, and according to video blogger KaptainKristian, that global community is due in part to the game’s original emphasis on collaboration between gamers.
KaptainKristian has produced some amazing essays about pop culture, and his latest video takes a look at why Pokémon became such a massive cultural phenomenon.
"Pokémon was designed to be a social experience"
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the original game Pocket Monsters: Red & Green (Pokémon Red and Blue in the United States), which debuted on Nintendo’s Game Boy in 1996. It became a "social movement as much as it was a gaming experience," KaptainKristian explains in the video. This was a functionality that was baked into the game from the start, when creator Satoshi Tajiri recognized the potential of the Game Link System for the Game Boy. The game allowed players to connect their devices and trade monsters or battle one another.
This functionality was a way to push meaningful interactions between gamers. Players could play the game on their own, but the experience was enhanced when they played with others. "It gave a lot of shy kids — myself included," Kristian noted, "a foundation for conversation."
It’s this social foundation that began with that original game, Kristian points out: "Pokémon was designed to be a social experience," and it’s one reason you saw tons of people walking this summer around glued to their smartphones. It's that fundamental design that helped the game remain popular for two decades, and why it will likely be a global phenomenon long into the future.