When Pokémon Go was released in July 2016, everybody with a phone and a half-forgotten childhood dream of owning a band of cute animal companions threw down their university coursework, threw down their part-time jobs, threw down that Concrete article they should have been writing, downloaded the app, and charged out the front door into a new world. For an all-too-brief time parks, forests and downtown areas saw activity the likes of which only normally happens when it snows. People of all races, genders, ages and creeds were united in the hunt for the ‘mons.
I was one of those people. The game’s release coincided with the end of the second year of my degree, in that post-deadline and pre-summer lull. I had more time and energy than I knew how to use, and so the game’s release came at the perfect time. I remember sunny days spent alternating between drinking in the square and marching down Chancellors’ Drive to find a Pokéstop or hatch an egg, and nights spent swapping stories of hatching the hundredth Magikarp or comparing stats.
But in the two years since its release, the game has died a slow and quiet death. The only stories being shared about the game now begin with “do you remember when Pokémon Go was still a thing?”
At the beginning of February Niantic, the game’s persevering developers, released a trailer and a slew of press releases detailing the future of Pokémon Go. The updates included the full roll-out of third generation Pokémon, a long-awaited expansion, and many other tweaks to the social and competitive elements of the game. Their creation, they insisted, was ready for a second wind, and they seemed jubilant with anticipation for the day when Pokémon Go was once again a dominating economic and cultural force.
That day never came. The release of the new Pokémon, including favourites like Salamence, Gardevoir and Wailmer, was such an understated event that, upon re-downloading the app after the update, I couldn’t even find any of the newbies.
The game was almost silent – where once every street corner and lecture theatre was packed to brimming with Rattatas and Pidgeys, now I couldn’t find a soul. The flat, unremarkable sprawl of Dereham filled my screen instead, devoid of all life or action. After a little walking I found a Shuppet, but that dashed away immediately, and I couldn’t be bothered to hunt down another.
Yet I can’t help but empathise with the forgotten game. The Norwich of Pokémon Go two years after release is the same for the game as it is for me, a student in their final year at university. I used to spend ages patrolling the lake with friends on Poké-patrols but now I barely have time to make a cup of tea between study sessions and careers meetings. Where once I was dashing about trying to catch ‘em all now I’m barely leaving the study areas of the library. Pokémon Go has grown quiet and lazy, and so have I.
I loved Pokémon Go when it came out, but this “renaissance” only lasted three days for me. Two years from release, the game holds a different place to all its players, and Niantic can’t expect the millions of people that played it originally to leap back into its folds. I am one of those players, and the game doesn’t work for me now like it once did. After all, I like my games to function as an escape from my degree, not as a metaphor for it.