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Super effective: The year of Pokémon Go

How one game took over the world.

Forget Trump, Brexit or any of the other colossal events that have shaped 2016 in their own peculiar way; it's telling that, after all that's happened these last 12 months, it was Pokémon Go that was the most searched term of the year. This was a gaming phenomenon like no other - or, at the very least, the closest games have come to causing full-on hysteria since the boom days of the early 80s. Only a few short months on from the madness of the summer, it's all too easy to forget the impact Pokémon Go had, so to remember we've pieced together a few personal anecdotes from the Eurogamer team.


Martin: The world changed in so many ways in 2016, and over the summer it underwent a gentle metamorphosis that was all too fleeting. On my cycle back home during the long July evenings, the car park by Halfords in Catford would thicken with mobs, while the park around the back of my house was patrolled by small pockets of families. It was a phenomenon unlike anything I'd ever seen in gaming before: Nintendo's Wii was perhaps the last thing of compare, though that was a revolution that happened in people's living rooms, but this was one that could be seen out on the streets.

For a short while it seemed that everyone was playing Pokémon Go, and it was delightful - strangers would work together. People who'd never spoken to each other before would share stories and point one another in the direction of a nearby Psyduck. I noticed landmarks on my doorstep that I'd overlooked in the past five years of living in this particular part of south east London - the knee-high monument that's been overrun with weeds one the outskirts of Ladywell Fields, the home of King Kong screenwriter Edgar Wallace in the dark heart of Brockley. It's rare that a video game opens up your eyes to the world around you. It's even rarer to find one that makes that world seem like a happier, warmer place.

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Chris Tapsell: I don't even know where to start with Pokémon Go. The game's a hot mess, let's be honest - or at least it was at launch and the immediate weeks after - totally unprepared for the sonic boom of popularity that would come. But oddly enough that scrappy, janky, totally oblivious-to-itselfness is one of my favourite things about it, and really the only reason I came back.

There's something liberating about playing something you're well aware is a bit rubbish, but cracking on anyway regardless. Although it's actually becoming quite a good game now with all the updated features (which really should have been there from the start). Just the story of Niantic itself though, slowly realising the enormity of its creation, and dealing with the fallout of that, has been fascinating to watch, and it's great to see they're catching up.

Go was also the first major thing I worked on since joining Eurogamer back in the summer, in itself my first real gig in video games. Even with the excitement of that fact put aside, scouring monolithic, community-sourced spreadsheets for reverse-engineered CP formulae was actually, somehow, really quite fun. I am genuinely, eternally grateful to Pokémon Go for helping me find my very odd, very satisfying niche.


Tom: ”You're late home." I concentrate on untying my laces, pretending not to have heard. "..." That pause. "You've been catching Pokémon again, haven't you?" Damnit.

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My commute grew longer over the course of July, my lunchtime trek to the sandwich shop rerouted to take in the largest catchment area of PokéStops. One more turn around the park, Eurogamer guides editor Matt asks? Yeah, why not, someone's just dropped a lure over there.

I remember standing in a beachside car park with Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh looking up a cliff at a Charmander just out of reach. I remember members of our tech, sales and editorial teams racing downstairs together at the sight of a Dragonite on Pokévision. We snapped a photo. I remember - most surprising of all - actually speaking with other members of the Great British Public while doing all of the above. Have you seen the Mr. Mime over there?

Looking back on 2016 it's easy for me to remember the year as one unending pile of bad news - and then I remember a few weeks in the sunshine, back in the summer, when everyone seemed a little happier.


Christian Donlan: I haven't played Pokemon Go, so you'd assume I have nothing to say about it. But Pokemon Go is that rare game, it turns out. That rare game that busts out of the confines of my working life and ends up in my wider world too.

So I heard about Pokemon Go at work, and then forgot all about it. People were playing it in the office, but, frankly, people in the office play a lot of things, right? No big deal.

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But then on Facebook one evening, my cousin, who for many years has been living a blameless life in San Diego, raising two children, working as a school teacher, and abiding by the American directive of absolutely not going for a walk anywhere, for any reason, was suddenly out and about of the sidewalks of her neighborhood catching Pokemon. My cousin Ellen catching Pokemon. Something profound was clearly going on here.

And it wasn't just Ellen. I spent a few days in hospital in August, and the Pokemon were there, too. Student nurses were ducking out - in quiet moments - to get to a point on the ward where they could get 3G and where Psyducks or whatever were gathering.

Is this the power of Pokemon? Is this the power of Augmented Reality? Is this a freak of timing never to be repeated? No idea, and, to be honest, I have a Pop-Tart cooling beside me. Still: the promise of the last few years has been simple, that games are for everyone. For a while this summer, thanks to a bunch of Psyducks, they were.


Matt Reynolds: It's been said countless times, but it's worth underscoring how big and unexpected Pokémon Go was. Never before had a community around a game spring up so fast and so visibly, with groups of complete strangers huddling round gyms and PokéStops, silently acknowledging each other as they caught Pokémon and fiercely battled for territory.

It was a surreal and wonderful thing to be a part of, but following that summer - when PokéVision closed, the colder months drew in and you hit a ceiling on what you could realistically catch without hopping on a plane to get those region-only creatures - the crowds disappeared almost as fast as they'd emerged.

Thankfully, Pokémon Go held up when approached as a more solitary pursuit. Though I've long given up the ambition of completing the Pokédex or holding gyms, there's still a pleasure in idly catching low-level creatures in your path and remembering to spin the same PokéStop on the way to work, all so you can slowly climb the ladder to reach higher trainer levels and earn more rewards.

Pokémon Go is, at its core, a simple RPG with a relaxed, easy-going grind you can dip into wherever you go, and though those headline-grabbing events of the summer may never be repeated - though the addition of new creatures could spark it off all over again - it excels as a game you can happily play as you're doing other things, and still thrills when the RNG works in your favour and it finally presents you with that Snorlax you've always wanted.

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