Pokémon Go has been a global sensation since it released over a month ago now, yet as trainers continue their journeys, are any of us getting any better at the game? To answer that we must decide where the gameplay aspects truly lie as on the surface there is no means to truly improve our skills over one another. With the game still in its infancy the only goal is to simply gain in level, a feat that every player can accomplish with perseverance, which in turn automatically grants us access to strong and diverse creatures. However if we look at the social side of the experience, we uncover the title’s unique position; the means to improve at it lie outside of the game itself.
If we begin to pick Pokémon Go apart, it is apparent there’s very little gameplay involved. It asks players to walk in real-time to find the creatures known as Pokémon, a system which utilises our smartphone’s GPS alongside in-built geographical maps. The process of actually obtaining these creatures simply involves swiping items known as Poké Balls at them when they appear, which capture and add them to our collection. We can then power them up with items or through evolution to challenge various gyms sites across the map. These gyms are held by us players, allowing us to drop Pokémon off for others to battle who in turn hope to claim the territory for themselves. These battles are conducted by repeatedly tapping the screen, whilst holding or swiping it will perform more powerful attacks and dodge respectively. Indeed the classic Rock-Paper-Scissors type chart the series is known for still plays a role but for the most part these battles are very simple affairs. In terms of gameplay therefore, in which the player directly interacts with the game, the game is almost entirely devoid of anything we can assuredly improve upon.
This is highlighted further as EXP is the only true reward the game has to offer. This allows the player’s character level to increase and by learning a handful of simple tricks we can in fact increase the EXP yield. The higher our trainer level becomes, the stronger the Pokémon and the tools we need become. In this respect the game rewards dedication over skill, as the players who increase in level quicker get all the spoils first, but it does so while lulling us into a sense we are somehow improving at it. Yet if the end game is the same, and if every player has the opportunity to reach it regardless, in what sense can we actually improve over other players?
The secret behind this isn’t actually included within the game at all, but in our interactions with other players. When we first reach level 5 we are asked to join one of three teams, a choice that determines which gyms we can battle and which we can join forces to defend. We can only place one of our own Pokémon at a specific gym at a time, meaning for us to maintain them for the full 30 hours the game encourages is no easy feat. We therefore rely on other players to add their own creatures to create the most powerful and diverse defence possible. As a result we’re encouraged to become more sociable with the experience, as having friends within the same team allows us to negotiate a greater defence over other players. We must learn how the creatures in the game operate and then how they can best serve our fellow teammates. Simply put one trainer is weak, but a hundred are a force to be reckoned with. Therefore it is through the game’s social side we can truly gain a sense of accomplishment, as any number of trainers can reach level 30 or 40, but not many can hold onto one of these gyms for the full 30 hours.
Pokémon Go is still young and Niantic intends to keep it going for several years to come, however as it stands the only method of improving at it is by forming connections with other trainers in the real world. At some point nearly every trainer will reach that level 40 cap, putting us all on a very level playing field. At that point it’ll be our connections within our own team that will reveal who has truly taken the game on board and improved at it. This aspect may not be present within the data of Pokémon Go itself, but without it we trainers are unlikely to meet any real measure of success.