If you've had some level of functioning brain activity during the past 20 years, you probably know what Pokemon are. And if you've chosen to participate in society at large during the past week, then you probably know what "Pokemon Go" is. For the uninitiated, "Go" is the latest entry into the Pokemon universe and the first to hit the smartphone app market, an augmented reality game (sorta) that lets users walk around in the world at large in search of their favorite collectible beasts.
It's also the latest cultural behemoth to form a rock-solid grip at the base of the nation's testicles. Launched a week ago, the app is already estimated to have been downloaded to 5 percent of all smartphones in the United States, giving it a wider user base than Tinder and a steady path toward muscling out other powerhouse apps like Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter in terms of active users.
You don't have to go far to see the impact of "Go." The game correlates the number of active users in a general area and generates more Pokemon to find and capture based on the amount of user activity. I took an hourlong bike ride up and down the creek last weekend and could count upward of a hundred people wandering around with telling "Go"-playing posture — phone up in front of their faces, fingers flicking upward on the screen to catch whatever beastie it is they're facing down, and usually standing in the middle of the goddamn bike path.
What's amazing to me about the success of "Go" is that it's managed to surpass or nearly surpass the established lordly apps on the market with an experience that is, for the most part, very siloed. In its current form, the app itself doesn't offer anything in the way of directly communicating with other players. You can interact in indirect ways via things like Pokemon gyms or Pokestops (and, you know, in person or whatever), but there's no chat function at the center of the game, an odd break from the constantly connected world that other leading apps puff up.
Nintendo has taken one of the most casual gaming franchises in history and made it even more accessible. Cops are playing alongside kids, businesses are using in-game "lures" to draw in more Pokemon to catch and customers to catch them, and as of this writing, the company itself has gobbled up an additional $9 billion in market value. Again, the game has only been out a week, and has yet to expand beyond the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
But is "Pokemon Go" just a fad? If it stays in its current form, I think yes, the novelty of catching critters with a smartphone will wear off in the next few months. But if some of the core social functionality that's been built into Pokemon games of the past (trading and battling with your friends/other players) make it into the app, then the hype train will keep rolling onward.
Pokemon hasn't lost its shine yet over the last 20 years, and making the leap to smartphones will help those little pocket monsters establish permanent residence in the bags and backpacks of the world.
Read more Nixon: coloradodaily.com/columnists