Usually the phrase "If you've been living under a rock" is used in exaggeration, but with the way Pokémon GO has proliferated over the last weekend you honestly would have to have been living under a rock to miss it.
Most everywhere you look - online and off - is filled with people playing or talking about the game. A Pokémon game played by traversing the real world and developed for smartphones seems primed for success on its own, but after having spent (admittedly far too much time) this past weekend playing the game I think there's more reasons it's caught on so quickly - and it's not only because its nostalgia timing is perfect for the '20-to-30-somethings' target audience.
But first let's be real here - the game isn't all that good. Catching Pokémon is straight out of Paper Toss from 2008, Pokémon battles have been simplified even further from their already rather simple origin, and the app itself is a nightmare full of crashes, server-downtime, and other multitudes of glitches. All of which one could clearly see in the runup to the game's launch, which is why I - and many others - didn't pay much attention to the game until it actually came out last week.
And I'll be damned if Pokémon GO isn't a load of fun regardless.
What the game lacks in actual gameplay & polish it makes up for with the experiences and differences from other games that surround you while playing. It sounds odd, but the best parts of playing Pokémon GO happen when you're not touching the phone. It's a little tough to summarize, but I think I'd group those best-experiences into exploring, spending time with friends, and meeting new people while out and about.
The game doesn't give you a map of your local area aside from the small portion you can see from your current location. This means that you have to go out and explore areas for yourself in order to find supply drops, battle spots, or where to locate certain Pokémon. This has you running around downtowns or driving along familiar strips with a friend, learning what areas around you are important to the game.
I don't know if I've played another game that encourages interaction with your friends as much - even though the game does next to nothing to facilitate this. There's no in-game chat, no trading, you can't even see other players in the game. Instead you end up out exploring with a buddy, or grouping up with co-workers or strangers to chat and compare your Poké-findings. Not because you have to, but just because it's so much more fun to play together than it is alone.
And as far as meeting others goes, I've seldom seen so many people all out and about doing the same thing. Sometimes it's just walking by and nodding a greeting, while other times it's yelling out to a passerby as you drive past. It's fun to interact with others who are all out having a great time and joining in the same thing as you - and I can't name another game that's brought people together like this in recent times.
Those things aside, the game still has lots of potential for over-addictiveness - I know because I feel the pull of Poké-addiction after this weekend - and it seems many people need to re-learn common sense about being outside again after staying inside for so long. Those negative stories will receive loads of press I assure you, but I think this game does much more good than harm.
Pokémon GO is different than almost any other gaming experience out there right now, and encourages you to explore and interact with others in a way that I can't say any other game does. That's fresh and compelling to people even if they don't realize exactly why, and that's why I think it's caught on so quickly.
The game is a catalyst for being outside, exploring, meeting and conversing with friends new and old, and even if the gameplay isn't all that thrilling, and people will surely be dumb about playing it in the coming weeks, it's good to have something happy that's bringing communities together to "Catch 'Em All!" Especially with all the other dark and depressing news headlines the world has forced upon us recently.
How long will the game continue to feel compelling? Well that remains to be seen, and depends a lot on Niantic to keep new features & events happening that will make people stick around. Right now Pokémon GO is a positive craze that I'm glad exists - and so while I know that with every Pokéball I flick I'm wasting a little time that I could be spending doing something else, I'm happy to trade that for a little extra joy in my and others lives.
I think Pokémon GO is something special, even if it's packaged in a silly-looking, Pocket-monster-catching skin.