Happy birthday, Pokémon GO and thank you for the exercise

By Alvin R. Cabral

Depending on how you look at it, Pokémon GO is either an exercise app disguised as a cute game, or a time-consuming, data-and-battery-sapping game masquerading as a walkathon. A favourite of mine, I play Pokémon GO for about half-an-hour on the way to work, plus during idle time at home. That’s two-three hours a week. Naturally, my gaming activity increases if I am at a place with free Wi-Fi.

On July 6, Pokémon GO, the AR game that put the AR into gaming, will celebrate its second birthday. After several server crashes, accidents and people losing focus of what they should be focusing on, the game is still going strong. When the game launched in 2016, it got fans of the franchise excited. Here was chance to finally catch all ’Mons for themselves.

But its developers were keen to incorporate another element: exercise. They’re so serious about making players exercise that Pokémon GO is among the apps that record and sync data nestled within the Apple Health app on the iPhone. The game, it can be argued, is a fun way of encouraging you to be more active.

My last “meaningful ‘work-out’” was just a couple of nights ago, when I had to carry some home furniture over my head across a strip of Dubai’s Satwa area. Since my friend’s car was parked at quite a distance, my ‘mobile weightlifting’ lasted for 15 minutes. When I finally got to the rendezvous point, I was tired and I was sweating, but it felt good. As a former athlete, I felt a sense of satisfaction.

My Pokémon GO journey began on the fine evening of July 14, 2016, eight days after it was launched, when my flatmates showed me a game on their smartphones. For the next week or so, I had gone MIA from home, especially in the evenings.

“Where’s Alvin?”

“Oh, he’s at the mall.”

“What, he’s checking out shoes again?”

“No, no; he’s catching Pokémon!”

Almost two years after, I’m still at it, just at a less-frentic pace.

If there are games I consistently play, it’s Angry Birds 2 and Super Mario Run. I’m not interested in other mobile games, especially the type that you have to build cities and societies, wage war on other groups and spend on stuff to help you advance. Okay, fine, I admit I recently spent Dh36.99 for 1,200 Poke Coins so I could acquire some egg incubators. And twice in the past I’ve spent that amount, so in total I’ve spent Dh110.97, but that’s that.

As with other games I engage in, once I start, it’s difficult to stop. Pokémon GO can be frustrating, especially when you need 20 Poke Balls to capture one measly, erratic ‘Mon. But I feel a sense of fulfillment after completing a task or capturing a cool Pokemon. And I get a kick when I discover I’ve walked several kilometres without even feeling it.

At I post this, I need to hit 250,000 to get to the next level. Not a walk in the park because my data package is limited to certain apps, since one catch will net you at least 100 XP (only).

It only gets worse from there. Meaning that if you’re at level 39, you’ll need two million XP to get to the ultimate level 40 — and that’s 20 million total XP needd to feel glorious. I wonder if those who’ve reached that level had anything else to do in their lives.

So far, I’ve caught 2,803 Pokémon and have filled 57 per cent of my Pokédex, which keeps a record of all available ’Mons out there.

Last week, the game celebrated Water Festival, meaning Pokémon named Quirtles and Wartortles are in abundance. It made you look out for them. And that the thrill of the game, the anticipation. Waiting and hoping for a rare or hard-to-evolve Pokemon to show up.

Luckily, I was able to snag Pikachu, the franchise’s official representative at an early stage. I was in Atlanta when I finally copped him on October 8, 2016. When I go places, I make sure I find time to hunt them down; some Pokémon are abundant in certain places, while others are region-specific — you don’t wanna miss out on some of ’em.

But for all my stats, I’m still at this level with only this amount of catches. People who see me playing the game always tell me you might be at a really high level right now. Well, compared (maybe) to most other users, I could be.

Which leads me to imagine what could’ve been if I had dedicated the past two years to this game: I could’ve been at a higher level, probably have caught 90 per cent of all Pokémon already, up there with the elite. I also would’ve made more steps, which, in turn, would’ve helped me have a fitter body — provided I did nothing else with my life.

When the anime was first aired in 1997, I was so mesmerised by the concept, that after some time, I bought a poster that listed all of the 151 original Pokémon and memorised them. In retrospect, turns out (for me, at least) Pokémon wasn’t just an exercise for the body, but for your brain as well. Yes, for a period I was able to recite each and every one of them. In order. Tell your friends about me.

alvin@khaleejtimes.com

Alvin is an Egg Pokémon; he cracks up at the victims of his trash-talking antics

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