This is Not A Review of Pokémon Go

[Originally published July 10, 2016]

This is not a review.

I think it’s fair to say – at this point – that Pokémon Go isn’t really a game. It’s a social experiment. We live in an age where that concept has become muddied by the trash fire of Youtube prank culture (‘POKÉMON GO CAPTURE/BATTLE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT [GONE SEXUAL]!!!!!!!’. Let me tell you something, reader: Nothing is more vile than Youtube prank culture). It is a game about getting off of your butt day in and day out to flick your finger across a screen, fill up your bars, and meet new people in the process. Really, the game is at its most successful when it-

Wait. Wait, Tom. This isn’t a review, remember? This is not a review.


I like going out and meeting new people. It’s been nice. It’s given some much needed structure and exercise to the day. There’s also something dangerous to it. It’s the sexy kind of danger. The ‘oooh, let’s be naughty and order Fries. Oooh look at us. We don’t care about calories. OOOoooh so naughty’ kind of danger, as opposed to the dangerous kind of danger – the ‘ohhhhh God. Ohhhhhhh God no why did I do this. My heart feels like it’s going to fucking explode, and I can’t feel my face, and I think I’m gonnastress vomit. Ohhhhh Goddd’ kind of danger. That being said, I did almost get hit by a car today while trying to get to a Pokéstop at the center of Chevy Chase Circle – one of the most dangerous traffic circles in the state. It was all worth it though, because I got three whole pokéballs.

This is what I value my life at, I guess. Three free virtual items. Pokémon Go really makes you discover things you never thought you knew about yourself.

I jest, but the Pokéstops are low key one of the most interesting aspects of the game. There’s something immutably human about gaining a command of local geography – something psychologically satisfying to it. Now I know the names of buildings, statues, and fountains in my area. The titles of these landmarks are the words by which I understand the language of my surroundings, and Pokémon Go is my dictionary. There’s nothing inherently game-y about the knowledge that comes with engaging in this cute little app. It’s just a happy consequence of play.

Oh. Shit. Fuck. Is this just turning into a review?

This is not a review. These are just some thoughts on Pokémon Go.


Part of the Pokémon Go experience is doing some Greco-Roman wrestling with the fundamental stability of the app – or, rather, the lack thereof. You must strip naked before the masses and lock yourself in combat with this fucking thing, fight it to the ground, and pin it where it lies – all just in the name of getting it past the god-damn loading screen. I have spent almost as much time trying to get Pokémon Go working as I have playing the actual game. Getting Pokémon Go to work makes me feel like an old person. Maybe if I turn my phone off and on again, the app will work?

Okay. That didn’t work. The loading bar only goes a third of the way. Maybe if I constantly close and re-open the app? Okay. That didn’t work either. Wait, it did this time! But now it’s not accepting my Google login?

And so forth.

Microtransactions and gym battles are the closest this thing comes to being a Capital-V Video Game, but – again – those elements are tangential to the actual experience of Pokémon Go. I went to the park today – by the way, when was the last time you went to a park? I haven’t gone to the park in years – and fought some kids and their Pokémen. It was nice. We talked shop. They asked me about my tattoos, I asked them what their thoughts were on the upcoming Ghostbusters movie. A good time was had by all, until they trounced me and took the Gym. Bastards.

Team Mystic 4 lyfe, by the by.

I haven’t even talked about the Pokémon yet, have I? I haven’t. Well, I’m not going to. I don’t particularly enjoy the games – I’ve given them a fair shake, and realized that they weren’t for me – and I didn’t download this app because I can put an on-fire bird into a tiny red-and-white sphere-prison. Though that’s a bonus, I suppose. I downloaded this app because I was interested in the habits of human/geographical interaction it seemed to pull out of people, and I hoped it might do something similar to me.

See, the Pokémon are just the skin that Niantic wrapped around their… I don’t know. What would you call this? An ‘appsperience?’ But Pokémon Gois also a skin unto itself. It’s the skin we wrap around our real lives. It’s a superficial little digital concept that colors the flavor of our existence, just like so many other apps do. Is that why it seems to be so universal?

My first time out with the app, a middle-aged woman stopped me to ask if I was playing ‘that Pokémon game.’ I responded in the affirmative, and then we had a pleasant little conversation about her son, the lakeside cottage she was staying at, and the political future of the nation. A little bit out of left field, that last one. It was the first time I’d spoken to a stranger in a very, very long time. Pokémon Go pulled me out of my comfort zone, but it did so in the most gentle way possible. And it was nice.

I think Pokémon Go is nice. It may not be a game, but it’s… something. And that something is Good.

Ah, shit. This totally turned into a review, huh?

Oh well.


When he’s not experiencing absolute screaming agony from his sore leg muscles, chaboi – Tom Loughney – writes about video games. You can find those writings here. Follow him on Twitter @tloughnessmnstr

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