I’ve always been a video gamer. When I was a kid my parents refused to buy me a video game console. Had they done so, I may never have played outside. They probably made the right decision. Luckily my friends weren’t so unfortunate. In the summer time when school was out, I would hang out with a friend from down the street nearly every day. Needless to say, we ran out of new things to do in short order. Nearly every day we would descend into a “I want to do whatever you want to do” battle. My trick to win was suggest we play Mario Kart on his N64, which apparently he didn’t like as much as I did. In hindsight I’m not sure why he ever turned me down.
Fast forward a few years to the era of 56K modems and dial-up computer gaming (because I was still console-deprived). These were the days of ICQ and MSN Messenger, where it was cool to chat online with your friends about what had happened since you got home from school (read: nothing substantial). My game of choice was Starcraft, which I would play online with my friends after school for an hour or so. That’s all I got since the internet blocked the phone line and my dad didn’t share my love for “killing aliens”.
When I was old enough to get a job and break free from the financial confines of my parents unspoken ban on console video games, I started saving my money. I ended up camping out with a good friend of mine so we could both get the Xbox 360 when it was first available. And by “first available” I mean many months later, because I live in Canada… We braved the Canadian winter to nab a couple of Xbox 360s at the local Best Buy as early on as we could. I doubt I would have been so inclined if I had to stand in line on my own.
That Xbox got a lot of mileage. Over the years it had to be warranty repaired 3 times, which incidentally led to me learning the guitar in my “downtime”. Now those failures were most certainly because of Microsoft’s engineering shortcomings; but I like to think its partly because of the 1000s of hours of playtime it got over the years. During undergrad my Xbox was the unofficial designated gaming station for the dorm floor and later, my crazy house of 8 guys. It was on nearly all hours of the day and only got a respite when Super Smash Bros. lured us away for a retro battle. Halo 2 and Halo 3 were our games of choice. I have over 44 days of continuous playtime in Halo 3 with over 10,000 games played between the two. I can’t (and probably shouldn’t) comment on how much I can claim personal responsibility for.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a stereotypical gamer. I don’t live in a basement or fear the sun. Although at my wedding, it became quite apparent that a gamer is how many people see me (at least in part). Without any planning or collaboration, the theme of the wedding speeches revolved around video games. I wouldn’t call my wife a gamer, but she grew up playing Nintendo with her Dad. She introduced me to retro classics as we made our way through the various Zelda games on N64 and Gamecube, and we spent many hours together tackling Skyward Sword, Super Mario Galaxy, and Donkey Kong on Wii. I’ve played a lot of different games: sports, shooters, action, adventure. I have my leanings, but I’ve come to realize that the games I enjoy most are those that can be played with others. As a kid, those experiences were in my friend’s basement. As I grew and technology advanced, those experiences migrated to battle.net and Xbox Live (/college dorm rooms). Later, my wife would share with me a part of her childhood while showing me what I had missed in my own (kidding, Mom and Dad!). Many different types of games drew my attention over the years, but communal experience was always the component that kept me coming back.
Mobile is one area of gaming that has lacked much of this communal draw for me, at least until recently. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve played a lot of mobile games. Angry Birds is, by far, the best and most number of hours you can get with a 99¢ app (I picked it up before the Loonie went for a dive and forgot to resurface). And I’ve sunk my fair share of time into Words with Friends over the years. But nothing on mobile has had that multiplayer experience that I crave. Turn based 1-on-1 experiences are as close as things have come. I always wondered if there were games out there that you could play over Bluetooth or on a local network that blended the virtual world of video games with the real world and people around you. If a Facebook friend isn’t available to play I would rather play with someone who’s around the corner than I would with some random person in Idaho. I guess what I was looking for was a sort of… “augmented” video game experience. I think you know where I’m going with this…
You’ve probably been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go. Or at least you are as oblivious as its players walking down the street. Pokémon Go is a pretty amazing game. You have to walk around the real world to find digital Pokémon, and then you catch and train them . You battle other players at local “Gyms”, which are tied to real world locations. The augmented reality part is mostly a gimmick if you ask me, although it is fun to see a Pidgey dancing on the sidewalk next to an oblivious passerby. The really interesting part for me is how they’ve brought together people in the real world. You have to physically be in certain places to interact with and unlock certain aspects of the game and you can actually engage with someone who may be right beside you on their phone. The game itself is fun, although its hard to say how long it will last. I was never a huge fan of Pokémon, so I’m not sure how much staying power it will have for me, but I am excited to see how it transforms mobile gaming moving forward. Its the sort of communal experience that I love in my video games, and with the proliferation of mobile devices, it’s the sort that I think more and more games will need to capture their audiences in the future. I, for one, am hoping for more compelling communal experiences like Pokémon Go on mobile. It’s what keeps me coming back.