The Calderon/Baxter family gather in the kitchen on a recent evening to get ready for a little adventure in their Atlanta neighborhood. They fill up on ice water, lace up their walking shoes and then hit the tree-lined streets with iPhones in hand.
For the next 90 minutes, the family of five (mom, Dr. Amy Baxter, an emergency pediatric physician; dad, Dr. Louis Calderon, a psychiatrist; and three teenage children: Max, 18; Miles 16; and Jill, 14) explore their neighborhood searching for cute little critters hiding in nearby streets, churches, yoga studios — and beyond.
They are playing the newest “it” game — “Pokemon Go,” a hugely popular app becoming a global phenomenon.
“I am doing something I enjoy,” said Max Calderon, a freshman at Georgia State University. “I am happy doing this and I am happy my parents want to do this with me. And they are super helpful.”
“Pokemon Go” is an “augmented reality” game that lets players find legendary pocket monsters in the real world and “catch” them on their smartphones. Players must cover ground on foot to find new Pokemon, to visit Pokestops and restock with Pokeballs, and to hatch “eggs.” The game recognizes a player’s physical location using mapping technology and GPS capability, and superimposes these game elements on local maps.
The demographic appeal of the game is widespread, and the game has found a particularly sweet spot for many families with teenagers. And what makes this special is not only that both teens and parents are playing the game, but that they are playing the game together.
“It’s fun being with (our kids) and they can be excited to share something with us,” said Louis Calderon. “And it’s something they get to do better at than us.”
With Pokemon’s launch 20 years ago, many parents today played the game as youngsters, giving today’s mobile app a “trans-generational appeal,” according to Ethan Tussey, assistant professor of communication at Georgia State University, who teaches classes on television analysis, cultural studies, and digital media.
Tussey believes whether the wild popularity of the app has lasting power remains to be seen, and he believes it depends on whether developers add new elements to increase social engagement. For example, he would like to see neighborhoods be able to add their own, hyperlocal landmarks, which “would be like social histories mapped onto their surroundings.”
John O’Farrill of west Cobb credits “Pokemon Go” with being a vehicle to spending more quality time with his 13-year-old daughter, Anii. Like many teenagers, O’Farrill said, his daughter is often not so keen on hanging out with dad. And while both he and his daughter like to play video games, his daughter insists her dad not play the same games.
But “Pokemon Go” is different, he said. O’Farrill downloaded it first, the day it was released; his daughter downloaded the app a few days later. Since then, they regularly play the game side by side, traveling to nearby “Pokemon Go”-rich spots such as the Marietta Square.
“For starters, for her to get any place, she needs someone to drive her,” said O’Farrill, who is a high school math teacher. “But as much as she wouldn’t want to admit it, a 13-year-old still wants love and approval from parents without risk of embarrassment. … We have a fun, friendly banter competition and we go to ‘Pokemon Go’ gyms close to our house and we will sit in the car and discuss. It’s been a great way to enjoy the game and spend time with my daughter at the same time.”
Meanwhile, on the recent summer evening in Atlanta, the Calderon/Baxter family decided to “take down” a “Pokemon Go” gym at a church about a mile from their house. (“Pokemon Go” gyms are places where players congregate and battle it out to take control of the area for a selected team. Usually, gyms are designated to churches or public buildings.) The Calderon/Baxter family took their strong, battle-ready Pokemon — also members of Team Valor — to the gym controlled by Mystic.
“I’m ready when you are,” Jill Calderon said as they sat on concrete church steps with iPhones in hand.
They vigorously tap and attack. And once their attack bar fills up, they press and hold to unleash a special attack. As members of Team Valor, they quickly gain control of the gym.
“OK, guys, our job is done here,” said Amy Baxter.
On their way home, just minutes later, the family learns Mystic regained control of the gym. It didn’t seem to matter.
They completed their mission, collected several pocket monsters, hatched eggs, got exercise, discovered something new about their neighborhood (there’s a pie factory nearby) and all the while, they were together.