This week was a tumultuous one for the Magic community and especially for those of us who are rabid fans of eternal formats including Legacy, Vintage, Commander, and Cube. It started with buyouts. Moat doubled in price. It escalated with the interviewing of Good Guy TM Craig Berry, the financial “genius” behind the buyouts. We reached ludicrous speed when Drug Baron Martin Shkreli started to troll the Magic community. Sanity was restored when TCG Player unveiled sweeping changes to their website.

So this week we’re going to talk about the one thing on every single Magic player’s mind this week: Pokemon Go.

Gotta Catch ’em All

meThat’s right, I picked team blue. What are you gonna do about it? I’ll see you at the Gym in Times Square at noon. Don’t be late. My Raticate is going to destroy you.

Welcome to Pokemon Go, the real dream of the 90’s (sorry Portland). The premise of the latest mobile sensation is pretty straightforward. You load it up on your phone and it gives you a map of the local area (GPS required). Pokemon are everywhere and you can track them on the app, and then catch them with a simple mini-game involving throwing poke-balls at the monsters.

Pokemon Red and Blue were released in the United States in late 1998 when I was 15 years old and my brother was 11. We played together on our game boys incessantly. We named them. We used the link cable to battle each other and trade. We were obsessed.

I never had a game boy color so Red and Blue was actually the end of my Pokemon gaming experience. I soon went off to university, played competitive Magic for half a decade, and the rest is history. But Pokemon Go is not like Pokemon Red and Blue, or any other Pokemon game, or perhaps any other game at all.

my pokemon

My meager collection of pocket monsters.

I installed the game on Wednesday evening and began playing on Thursday. After finding my starting Pokemon, a Charmander, in my apartment, I was ready to set off. There’s a gym near my subway station but I couldn’t check it out until I reached level five. During the next few days at the office I would use my periodic breaks that I spend walking around the building (20 minute walk every two hours because you can’t sit all day and you can’t stare at a screen all day without ruining your health) to hunt for new Pokemon and also pick up items at Pokestops.

And that’s basically the whole game. Pokestops are neat little geographic locations that you can stop by every five minutes and pick up items such as more pokeballs, potions, revives, and eggs (which can hatch into pokemon). Where I live and work these are mostly graffiti but can also be public buildings like libraries. If I walk around my block at work or at home I can pick up about a half-dozen pokestops and catch about a half-dozen Pokemon as well.

The game has become an overnight sensation. There are stories coming out from across the globe of people walking around and catching pokemon and meeting other pokemon trainers. Of course the stories aren’t all positive. One player was the unfortunate discoverer of a dead body while looking for pokemon. Others have had potentially threatening nighttime encounters.

Pokemon Go is, somewhat ironically, going to encourage a generation of indoor gamers to suddenly brave the fresh air and sunlight to play a game. It’s a novel concept for sure, and there’s going to be some concern over throwing a community that is often thought of as poorly socially adjusted into a very social environment. But, for the sake of enjoying the game I think the results will be mostly positive.

There’s very little direct conflict in Pokemon Go. The game is 99% walking around and catching Pokemon. I caught them at my apartment. I caught them in my neighborhood, near my office, even at the Campbell Apartment Bar (closing at the end of the month). It was great fun. I showed my friends. They caught some Pokemon. We had some laughs. It’s a very positive experience. There’s no conflict.


You can pay money, but you don’t need it to enjoy the game

The only conflict in the game comes from the gyms where you can train your pokemon (if the gym is controlled by a player on your team) or you can challenge pokemon (if the gym is controlled by a different team). If you can get your pokemon into the gym you can rack up points while defending it from opposing factions. But that’s the only conflict. It’s not a huge part of the experience and because of that I get the impression that the early community interactions are similarly lacking in conflict.

So what’s the future of Pokemon Go? We’ve seen the lack of end-game progression kill plenty of online and mobile games in the past. Right now there isn’t a lot to do once you have a bunch of high-level Pokemon. You could go all over town and try to fight at every gym, but for the average player that’s an unsustainable way to play the game. Is the casual experience of collecting Pokemon enough to keep the servers running? I seriously doubt it.

I think social features are going to become a necessity if the game is going to sustain the level of excitement it currently has. I think players will need something to do with their Pokemon other than level them up and look at them. If these features don’t come soon then it’s only a matter of time before we’re all talking about “that time we spent a couple weeks in July catching Pokemon on our phones.” But if these features start rolling in, we could be catching Pokemon for years to come.

Gotta catch 'em all

Gotta catch ’em all

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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