Well, it seems almost impossible to have a column about fans and fan activity, and not mention Pokémon Go. The game launched earlier this month and has quickly become the top used mobile game ever, with over 21 millions active users within the first week. The question, then, is how and why did it become so popular so fast?
There are undoubtedly many factors at play here. Some have noted the nostalgia factor for everyone who’d either played previous versions of the game and/or watched the cartoon. With the first game’s release just over two decades old now, there’s quite a few people out there who might want to reacquaint themselves with the property. I think, though, there’s another important timing element at play here.
Star Wars was obviously a huge hit in 1977 when it was first released. It did a lot of innovative things, to be sure, but it also opened amid a period when the public wanted a straight-foward escapist story of good versus evil. In even just the first few months of that year before the movie opened, 49 marines died in Barcelona harbor in a boating accident, a blizzard that killed 28 people swept through New York state, a flood covered Grundy, VA causing $15 million in damage, Mount Nirogongo erupted and killed at least 70 people, an earthquake in Romania killed 1500 people, Cambodia and Vietnam broke out into all-out war, the death penalty was re-introduced in the United States, the Hanafi Movement took over several buildings in Washington, D.C. and held 130 hostage for several days, and there were a number of high profile plane crashes including the Tenerife disaster (which remains the deadliest accident in aviation history) and the death of Yugoslavia’s Prime Minister. Not only was there a lot of bad news coming into people’s living rooms, but much of it revolved around things nobody had any control over: an earthquake, a volcano, a flood, a blizzard, plane accidents… Star Wars came out at a time when people wanted a respite from horrible news, and some reassurances that good guys can still win the day.
I suspect we’re seeing some of that with Pokémon Go. Any number of people have commented on the horribleness of 2016 and, whether there is actually more bad news than usual or it’s just our perception, there’s a lot people want an escape from. From the passing of beloved pop singers like Prince and David Bowie to a seemingly endless barrage of deadly encounters between unarmed Black men and police to an increasingly unbelievable presidential race (which, technically as of this writing, hasn’t even started since neither the Republicans or Democrats have formally put forth a nominee yet!) to the beginning of the European Union’s collapse to a coup attempt in a seemingly stable country like Turkey… Well, there’s just a lot that people are frightened about.
That Pokémon Go came out in the midst of all this, and has fostered a higher degree of positive socialization and community than we’ve ever seen out of a game before… it’s little wonder the game has been going like gangbusters. People are using their phones to literally see the world in a new way, and that’s something a lot of people need for their own sanity right now.