PAX Aus: How Pokémon GO transformed our communities

Pokémon GO PAX Aus PAX Australia

PAX Aus bought together a panel of Pokémon fans to talk about their experiences with Pokémon Go.

Pokémon GO is a game that’s captured the hearts of Pokémon fanatics and newcomers alike. Longtime-players felt a sense of nostalgia, whilst new gamers found a community. What is it about Pokémon GO that’s had the world making memes, brought people together, and encouraged exploration of the outdoors?

Bragg “hearmeBragg” wanted to investigate this community that the game has built. He also wanted to look at the positive physical and mental health benefits of the game. Thus, he brought together this panel of Pokémon fans  at PAX Aus to discuss it.

The game that’s captured the world

The game tagline, “Get up and go,” has encouraged people to get outside and explore the world around them. It has also brought people from all around the world together. Communities have been built. And they have been vast. Britt Andrews, photographer and Pokémon GO enthusiast, commented to the huge variety of people from all walks of life. Everyone, the young and the old, the doctors and the accountants. Many different people have found joy in playing this augmented reality game.

Mental health

According to the panel, research papers have commented on the positive mental health impacts of Pokémon GOThe panel members talked about their own personal experiences with the game. Andrews said it gave her a reason to get out of the house every day. Tiger Bailey from Lycan Labs and Zoe Rowen from Somewhere New said it helped them manage their mental health. ZoëTwoDots, a YouTuber, said it forced her to get up from her desk every day and walk. Some of the panel’s friends used the game to overcome social anxiety and meet new people.

Pokemon GO PAX Aus PAX Australia
Friendships were formed, and people came together as a community over this mobile game. (Image: WCCF Tech)

Lots of people met via raids and trades. Lasting friendships were formed, and there was always a “friendly and positive” nature about the game. The game is simply designed for interaction, both with the digital and physical world. Many of the aspects of the game only work due to the game’s augmented reality nature.

PokéStops, hatching eggs, and more help people to get up and move. Goals such as these gamify the physical world. When the game first game out, many people commented on the new places they explored thanks to Pokémon GO.

Physical places in digital spaces

Exploring, getting out, and seeing places are all part of Pokémon GO. The game is designed so that people discover physical locations whilst playing. Not only that, but they find people outside the game, but still playing the game. The panel gave us some stats on this. Ninety percent of players said they found new or novel places thanks to playing the game. You can’t really go and spin a PokéStop without admiring what it’s there for. Players also said they traveled on new routes and pathways. Many navigated their way home or to work multiple ways.

This helped people rediscover the physical world around them. Andrews said as an addition that community days really amplified this effect. Community days brought players into new places. With them, money flooded into the economy as people traveled for those days. Developing areas saw great increases in their revenue. Smaller, usually under-visited places such as libraries received more visitors and increased activity.

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People explored new places in their cities thanks to the game. (Image: Getty Images)

Whilst this is all well and good, there are a couple of issues with location-based games. Rowen says there are often challenges when building these games for people with disabilities. The publishers don’t want to lock people out. Thus, developing for physical disabilities is a challenge and one that is constantly being worked through. Furthermore, Andrews bought up the challenge in rural communities.

Rural places

Yep, there are people living in rural places. Therefore, there are Pokémon GO players in those areas. The challenge in rural spaces is global to location-based games. These games rely on local meta-games being formed — communities, raids, friends. If there is a small player base, then it’s difficult to grow the community there.

Rural places aren’t the best for Pokémon GO. Often you’ll just see this wherever you go. (Image: MishManners)

Andrews says that when PokéStop submissions came in, this really helped rural areas. Rural areas are interesting places, and there’s a real difference in the scope and base of players. The average player level is much lower than in cities, and the number of Pokémon spawns is much lower. As a player, it’s difficult to level up, trade, raid, and power up your parties.

Play the way you like

One of the things about Pokémon GO that the panel really liked is the ability to play the game the way you want. Andrews said she likes to complete field tasks. Others like to collect certain Pokémon, and some like to hatch lots of eggs. According to the panel, the game is built so you can work towards your own goals. Furthermore, the game has developed the way the community likes to play. When trades and raids came into the game, Andrews told us the game went from $1.8 million of revenue per day to $2.5 million. ZoëTwoDots  said that’s when she really got into the game. Not only this, but new players found Pokémon GO.

New players

This was something that really surprised us. As a game that is into its third year, you’d think that it’d be really hard for new players to get involved. But the panel told us it wasn’t too late to join the hype train. As a non-Pokémon GO player myself, I felt apprehensive about playing a game that others had been playing for years. Andrews and ZoëTwoDots commented on the ease of access for new players. Additionally, they reassured us that the community is very willing to help. Thus, they convinced me to play the game myself.

Two days in, and I can definitely say Andrews and ZoëTwoDots were spot on. It was easy enough to get into the swing of things. Learning the game was a breeze and it didn’t take me long to take down a gym or two. As the panel had reassured, the community was amazing. Veteran players were quick to offer advice, trades, and tips. My friends list grew considerably overnight and I felt welcomed into the game.

In conclusion, it’s never too late to ride the wave of excitement. If you’re yet to play Pokémon GO, now’s a great time to get involved. Just remember to buy an area battery pack!

Pokémon evolving

We couldn’t have a panel discussion finish without talking about the new games. As a final topic, the team dove into Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!. Andrews loved the new throwing Poké Ball action. Many of the other panel members enjoyed the features of the new game. Whilst Pokémon GO isn’t a mainline title, everyone was excited about the links between the mobile game and the new Switch title. According to some of the panel members, some people had lost interest in Pokémon GO due to FortniteThe panel hopes that the new Switch title will reengage the lost fanbase.

Pokémon GO has done an incredible job of creating a community. People stay up at all hours of the day and night to play. Players can be seen gathering on street corners just to catch a rare spawn. Friendships have been forged all over the world. We’re sure Pokémon will continue to grow, and probably lots of kids will be asking for a Switch this Christmas!

Check out the panel highlights video below.

PAX Australia

Lastly, see all our other coverage from PAX Aus with the Ultimate Super Smash Bros. Panel, the Nintendo booth, and a look into Necrobarista. There’s also the Ocarina of Time 20-year anniversary to read through too.

Michelle Mannering
Michelle is a Content Producer in the realms of innovation and technology. Known as the “Hackathon Queen”, you’ll often find her on stage MC’ing or speaking on a range of topics from artificial intelligence, to business, community engagement, the future of work, esports, and gaming. With a background in both science and arts, Michelle writes extensively on a range of topics including innovation, startups, corporate culture, esports, business development, and more. She has a passion for gaming and combines this with her experience in a range of industries. Michelle brings a unique insight into gaming world and draws on many of her research areas.