If you walk around Isla Vista, you might see any number of people stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, heads cocked in consternation. They may either pump their fists, elated at their victories, or shake their heads in dejection. You might see a Pokémon trainer playing the mobile game Pokémon GO.
Niantic developed Pokémon GO and released it for mobile devices on July 6, 2016 but this game is still going strong to this day, almost two years later. Many other mobile games lose nearly all of their players in less time than that, so what makes Pokemon GO so appealing?
Pokémon GO was picked up by almost 30 million people in the first month of its release but has since fallen to lower numbers of regular players. Niantic is still releasing updates for the game, with one recent update celebrating the Lunar New Year. These updates explain how GO has kept up its popularity despite the release of multiple new games in the series, including an entirely new generation of Pokémon.
The game is all about getting outside and exploring. There are three main objectives in Pokémon GO: Pokémon, PokéStops, and gyms. Pokémon are scattered randomly around the world, and are often placed based on their type: water Pokémon are near the ocean, grass Pokémon are found near forests, etc. PokéStops and gyms are located at certain real-world locations which encourages players to travel around and reap the rewards that these different places offer.
Pokémon GO has many PokéStops and gyms around campus, and it’s no coincidence that they are placed in convenient locations. A previous game by Niantic, called Ingress, had a feature where players could suggest certain locations to be made into special places for the game, similar to Pokéstops and gyms.
Using those suggestions, as well as many monuments and other sites where Google reported a lot of user activity, PokéStops and gyms were set at specific locations for Pokémon GO. This explains why the PokéStops and gyms are in easily-reachable locations on and off-campus: because the players themselves brought about their creation. Just look at the library, a central, often densely-populated spot on campus which has around 15 PokéStops around it.
Second year chemistry major Michael Lum is one of many Pokémon GO players on campus today. He recounts his love of Pokémon as a child and how Pokémon GO was like a dream come true: Pokémon in real life. However, PokéStops and gyms are few and far between where he is from. That’s what makes playing Pokémon GO on campus that much better. Because of the higher population density, PokéStops, gyms, and Pokémon are everywhere. In addition, he could network with other dedicated players and could play cooperatively.
At UCSB, there are many groups on Facebook and other applications which are dedicated to Pokémon GO. In these groups, players are very social, planning coordinated raids and discussing GO constantly. You may be able to spot them during one of their sessions, executing strategies and having a blast. For the players of Pokémon GO, going out to capture Pokémon is just another fun activity with friends.