Study: Why is Pokémon Go The Most Widespread Phenomenon Since The Bubonic Plague?

Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, with now over 100 million downloads onto Android devices alone. It’s safe to say the Pokémania of the 90’s is seeing something of a revival, but why is that? Especially when Pokémon Go is, if we’re being honest with ourselves, a buggy, barebones mess? Prof. Dr. Claus-Peter H. Ernst of the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences may have the answer.

“Pokémon Go has already become one of the most successful mobile games ever and one that is able to inspire players across the generational divide,” Ernst writes in a press release. Last year, Ernst, who is sadly not a Pokémon Professor, and is just a regular Professor, published the results of a study he had been conducting for over a year: “Why People Play Pokémon: The Role of Perceived Belonging”. Over the course of this time Ernst has been investigating what makes the Pokémon games such an enduring success, and one can only imagine that the recent explosion of Pokémon Go has been wood on the fire of this particular study.

Of Pokémon itself, Ernst notes that its continued presence in media, from the halcyon days of Game Boy to the current period of 3DSes, Netflix and, indeed, Pokémon Go, the series has been able to constantly attract new, young fans, while retaining older fans (and that’s “older” in both senses of the word…)

In particular, the sheer nostalgia Pokémon’s older demographic can hold for the series may go a long way towards explaining why they are so taken with Niantic’s mobile app.

“The latest game in the series enables players to make a long-awaited dream come true, namely to go for the first time on their very own Pokémon journey,” Ernst writes.

Indeed, fans of the franchise will be familiar with the premise of both the games and the show, which is to travel across the land, searching far and wide (as the 90s anime put it). Granted, the Pokémon journeys we are now realizing across the globe tend to involve coming home at the end of the day instead of walking the breadth of an entire continent, but the wish-fulfilment aspect is undeniable.

“On top of that is the perceived technological leap being made through the use of augmented reality,” Ernst continues.

Indeed, “augmented reality” games are nothing new, Niantic’s even done one before now, in pretty much the exact same vein as Pokémon Go. But for people whose last memories of Pokémon were as a fuzzy black-and-white screen less than 2 inches long, seeing the 3D critters out in the real world is one heck of a leap. Ernst believes that this factor is “secondary” to younger players, who are more accustomed to the wonderful things gadgets can do these days.

Finally, Ernst argues that social factors are a “part” of the current phenomenon, and it’s hard to argue. The best stories to come from Pokémon Go aren’t about someone catching a lot of rare Pokémon or owning a lot of gyms, but about the sometimes heart-warming, sometimes downright bizarre connections people have made already through this game.

It’ll be interesting to see how Pokémon Go fits into his previous study, and what new conclusions he draws. And indeed, if there were any game worthy of study, it’s Pokémon Go. Whatever you think of the game (and it should be no surprise by now that I don’t rate it) there’s no denying the grip it’s had on society of late. And with Niantic teasing big crowd events in the future (Mewtwo in Central Park, for example) we may well be looking at a game that can literally augment reality. The social, economic and legal ramifications of a game which could potential influence travel and holiday destinations on a mass scale like this are quite possibly wider-reaching than any of us realize yet.